Slow year ahead on Metrorail
Metrorail will continue to perform at a sub-par level for the rest of this year. That's the way Metro board member Chris Zimmerman assessed this afternoon's report to the board from Metro's chief of rail operations.
Dave Kubicek, the rail chief, said he didn't see any way he could recommend a return to automatic control of the trains before the end of this year, at the earliest. The issue, he said, is safety. So the trains will remain under the control of the operators in the front cab.
The trains were built to run automatically. Manual control has slowed operations and created more wear and tear on the equipment and on Metrorail personnel. There are some safety risks to operating trains under manual control, Kubicek said.
But he has consistently maintained, as he did today, that he cannot recommend a return to automatic control until Metro has two things: a safety device in place to warn controllers that a train has disappeared from their monitoring system and a fix for the underlying problem with the automatic controls such as occurred during the June 22 Red Line crash.
Kubicek said there's a chance both those things could occur by the end of the year, but he did not commit to a timetable.
Zimmerman spoke for many riders when he said, "It's not the answer any of us want." But he and the other board members are not questioning Kubicek's judgment about the need to fix the problems with the automatic system. Rather, they are aware that travel conditions on the rail system have deteriorated since the automatic system was suspended as a safety measure.
Kubicek reviewed the consequences: The trains are moving more slowly, and the system therefore has less capacity to handle crowds at rush hour. Humans aren't as good at driving trains as the computers are, so the ride can be rougher -- especially as the trains slow down and stop at the platforms.
Kubicek described the situation as similar to what occurred in 1999-2000, the previous time automatic controls were suspended for safety reasons. But operating conditions are more difficult now because of the greater passenger loads, the increase in the number of rail cars and the other safety restrictions that Metro has imposed, such as speed controls.
March 11, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories: Metro | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, Red Line crash
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