NTSB hearing to continue Wed.
6:15 p.m. Update: The testimony for today concluded with officials still having covered only some of the elements planned for Tuesday. Much of the late afternoon discussion centered on the performance of circuits in the vicinity of the Fort Totten crash and irregularities in the signals.Officials were also pursuing whether the June incident have similarities with previous accidents in the Metro system. That line of questioning will resume Wednesday morning, when the hearing will begin an hour earlier than planned, at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. The hearing room at NTSB's headquarters at L'Enfant Plaza will open at 7 a.m., officials said.
5:45 p.m. Update: Officials expect to end the hearing soon with testimony about problems that were occurrring in the circuits in the vicinity of the crash. In July the NTSB revealed that problems with the track circuit had begun 18 months earlier.
4:30 p.m. Update: The second panel, which will deal mostly with technical isuues on Metro's actions to address safety issues, just started. There is still a third panel, the TOC, on the agenda.
4;05 p.m. Update: The hearing is in recess.
3:35 p.m. Update: Ann Scott Tyson reports that rail chief Dave Kubicek said that Metro is a year away from returning its trains to automatic control. Trains have been operating under manual since the June 22 crash. Kubicek said the agency has to test new equipment that will be a backup to the crash avoidance system.
In July the NTSB said the electrical system designed to prevent crashes is inadequate and urged the addition of a real-time, continuous backup.
3:15 p.m.: An NTSB spokeswoman told The Post's Ann Scott Tyson that the hearing may go until 7 tonight and could start earlier than 9 a.m. on Wednesday to accommodate all of the scheduled witnesses.
3:10 p.m.: Today's session of the hearing is also supposed to include a panel from the Tri-State Oversight Committe, which monitors Metro, but Metro officials are still being questioned about their safety procedures. No word yet on how late this may go or if that panel would be pushed to the second day.
2:10 p.m. Update: Catoe is being questioned about old items affecting safety where action has not been taken and whether the board of directors has been notified and whether he believes that such notification is important.
2 p.m. Update: The NTSB is questioning Metro officials about what federal standards and regulations govern Metro operations.
1:35 p.m. Update: The hearing has resumed with more questions on safety training. The board is now asking if safety is a performance standard used in evaulating employees. Catoe has said yes and is discussing that metric. He said he believes it is a standard that applies to everyone but did not want to make a blanket statement.
12:20 p.m. Update: The hearing is in recess until 1:20 p.m.
12:10 p.m.: Brake maintenance had been deferred on the Red Line train that crashed into another train in the June, said Dave Kubicek, Metro's acting deputy general manager.
"Was any brake maintenance deferred on the cars from the striking train?" asked NTSB investigator Dave Watson.
"Yes," replied Kubicek, chief of Metro's rail operations. "The maintenance that was being deferred was regards to a heavy overhaul process" and could have involved "an entire subsystem," he said.
Still, Kubicek said that the deferred maintenance was "a long lead time" job and that it did
"absolutely not" impact the performance of the striking train.
"If it had failed one of the daily checks it would have been held out of service," he said. "That in itself is sort of a summarization," he concluded.
-- Ann Scott Tyson
11:55 p.m.: Catoe on safety - "I've constantly communicated since my arrival that safety is the No. 1 priority."
11:20 a.m. Update: The hearing has resumed with a question to Taborn about notifying NTSB and the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) about accidents.
A Washington Post investigation has detailed how TOC has no direct regulatory authority over Metro, and has no employees, no office and no phone number.
11 a.m. Update: The NTSB has taken a 15-minute break.
10:50 a.m. Update: Steve Klejst, head of the operations portion of the investigation, peppered Metro Board Chair Peter Benjamin on communications over safety concerns between the board and Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., as well as with federal and local oversight groups.
Asked by Klejst whether the board had routine interaction with the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Benjamin replied: "There was no formal set of reports and no formal set of meetings that I remember relative to that," prior to last fall, when The Washington Post reported that Metro was barring TOC inspectors from the tracks.
After discovering Metro staff was impeding the TOC inspections, "we did invite [TOC members] to come on a regular basis and brief us," Benjamin said.
Yet Benajmin said that Board members, accused of being "micro managers," intended to exert broad policy guidance on safety, and would not probe Metro's day-to-day conduct on safety unless a major problem came to light.
"If we believe that the general manager or staff are not acting with an appropriate level of safety concern ... we would explore that in greater detail with the general manager," Benjamin said.
Klejst then turned to Catoe and Acting Chief Safety Officer Michael Taborn to quiz them on Metro's internal reporting on safety problems. Taborn explained how Metro's lead safety officer did not report directly to the general manager until after the Red Line crash that killed 9 people.
"The chief safety officer prior to the accident reported to the chief administrative officer, who reported directly to the general manager," Taborn said.
The day after the Red Line crash, Catoe changed the organizational structure so that the safety officer would report directly to him.
-- Ann Scott Tyson
10:25 a.m. Update: Noted from a transcript of his interview with investigators, Brian Brooks, the operator of the stopped train just north of Fort Totten, describes himself as "a train operator for almost seven and half years." (the interview was conducted July 2).
10:15 a.m. Update: General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. discusses changes he made in safety reporting authority after the June 22 accident.
10:10 a.m. Update: The NTSB is questioning Mike Taborn, the acting chief safety officer at Metro about the setup of the safety office, who safety officials report to and how those relationships have changed over the years,
9:55 a.m. Update: Questioning continues into the board's relationship with Metro operations and with the body charged with monitoring Metro, the Tri-State Oversight Committee. The NTSB appears to be laying the foundation for witness testimony that will occur throughout the week, defining the responsibilities of the leadership at Metro and the lines of authority.
The issue of safety oversight has been at the forefront over the past several months as federal officials have increasingly scrutinized the agency due to a surge in worker deaths and safety lapses.
9:45 a.m. Update: Peter Benjamin is being questioned about the role of the board of directors and its relationship with the general manager senior executives.
9:35 a.m. Update: Witnesses are being sworn in, including Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. and Board Chair Peter Benjamin.
Original post: The National Transportation Safety Board hearing into the June 22 Red Line crash is underway. The three-day hearing is open to the public and will take place in the board room and conference center at 429 L'Enfant Plaza in Southwest Washington. The sessions begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
It will be several months before the NTSB issues a formal finding on the probable cause of the crash. Investigators will use information from the hearing to prepare the final report on the accident and additional safety recommendations by the first anniversary of the crash.
But the testimony, and information already released by investigators, should make clear the general outlines of what caused the crash, officials said.
In addition, the NTSB wants to address broader issues: how Metro identifies and corrects safety problems, and the adequacy of state and federal oversight.
Officials from Metro, its regional safety monitor and the Federal Transit Administration are among the nearly two dozen witnesses scheduled to testify.
Tuesday's witnesses are all from Metro. They include departing General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. ; the rail chief and acting deputy, Dave Kubicek; the acting chief safety officer, Michael Taborn; and Metro's board chairman, Peter Benjamin.
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