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Metro: Brake incident not hazardous

Metro's safety officer, James Dougherty, said Thursday that "at no time was a hazardous condition present" on May 5 when a Red Line operator hit the brake because he thought he was too close to the train ahead.

The operator brought his train to a stop at least 600 feet from the train ahead of him at the Wheaton Station, Dougherty said. The train's operator did not use the emergency brake, known as "the mushroom." That's an operator's last defense in avoiding a collision. Instead, Dougherty said, the operator put the regular brake into its emergency setting, a less drastic way of bringing a train to stop that does not involve locking the wheels.

At no time were any people in danger, Dougherty said.

Several board members who listened to Dougherty's report seemed at least as concerned about how the press reported the incident as they were about what actually happened. Board member Gordon Linton suggested the media be more careful in how it reports such incidents. (Some reports described the incident as a near miss, which in the view of Metro officials it was not. Here's the full statement from Metro about the incident.)

Board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington was the first to ask for further explanation of why, if there was no danger, the operator felt compelled to put the brake into emergency mode.

Dougherty said the operator, who has not been identified, perceived he was getting too close to the train ahead and brought his six-car train to a stop. No one on the board or staff suggested he did anything wrong at any point during the incident.

In fact, the preliminary investigation suggests he did everything right: In summary, he took a prudent action to protect his train and the one in front of him. Then he immediately reported his action to Metrorail controllers.

The train was taken out of service and checked. No problems were found. There was no flattening of the wheels such as would have occurred if the emergency brake was applied. There was no problem with the track circuitry. The distance between the trains was great enough that the automatic safety controls that bring trains to a stop did not engage.

Zimmerman, who like the others had no criticism about the operator's actions, did wonder if Metro needed to develop a better system for deciding what types of incidents need to be reported to various safety officials.

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By Robert Thomson  |  May 13, 2010; 2:35 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, Red Line  
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Move along folks ... nothing to see here.

Posted by: blackforestcherry | May 13, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Well, blackforestcherry, the board session did have a bit of that feel. I thought the report on the incident was very good -- the most thorough I've seen from Metro -- though it's still not perfectly clear to me why an operator with a year's experience felt he needed to apply a hard brake in that situation. But what left me feeling not right was that the board members didn't have many followup questions that had to do with safety, with the exception of board member Chris Zimmerman, who asked several good questions.

Board member Gordon Linton was fixated on whether any Metro official had ever described this incident as a "near miss."

You would have thought for a moment that the main issue before the board was whether press coverage of Metro needs to be reined in.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | May 13, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Exactly. I am sure Metro feels picked on, and wishes we would all sit down, shut up, and put up with it. Please don't do it--I am getting very tired of these incidents (and I have been at the front of a red line train coming into Grovesnor and thought "aren't we getting close to the train on the platform?". SOMEONE has to keep after them.

Posted by: mmaid | May 13, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

The operatgor was probably thinking to himself 'If something happens I'll get fired' and took preemptive action.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | May 13, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad Metro SAYS everything is well and that maybe everything was an overreaction or a misunderstanding. But really, what has Metro done lately to make us believe them?

Posted by: ceebee2 | May 13, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Can we really believe Metro's report? I listened on-line to the meeting, they claimed the train stopped at over 600ft away on a section of track with a 4% grade, yet the operator still perceived some sort of danger. 4% means the train still had 24 vertical feet to climb before it even encountered the other train. I don't believe that train could actually be seen. To have stopped 600ft away, the operator must have some incredible sight! I think the regulatory body overseeing Metro needs to verify and report that in fact the two trains never shared a circuit.

Posted by: jussenadv | May 13, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

We appreciate the operator's safe actions. Suggest the media continue to report correctly; and, metro board members do their job; rather than tell the media how to report. And, we do not believe one word any of the board members speak. So shut the kdkdkdk up, and fix what is broken. I don't ride, it isn't safe. It is not an amusement park ride.

Posted by: linda_521 | May 13, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

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