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A week after the accident, and…

June 29, 2009, 9:56 PM

Well, it’s been a week since Metro had its big collision, and this was my first day back on Metro since my four-hour commute, and after driving to work for the remainder of the week due to my not wanting to deal with the shuttle bus service. Monday was the first workday that the Red Line was running on both tracks, much to my delight. Metro may have its hiccups, but at least I can sleep on the way home from work when I’m taking Metro. Can’t do that in the car. Have to stay alert for driving.

And today was one of those days where I slept well on the way home. In fact, I don’t think I’ve slept this well on Metro in a long time. I had my iPod going, and I kind of leaned my head along the edge of one of the windows. And the reduced speeds (as a post-accident safety precaution) made for a smoother ride. I vaguely remember New York Avenue station, and then the next thing I knew, we were outside Silver Spring, where we were waiting for what felt like eternity due to single-tracking caused by a track jumper at Forest Glen. That single-tracking made me miss my bus, causing me to have to wait ages for a Y bus at Glenmont. Not fun.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe held an online chat to discuss the accident. The Lunchtalk chats that Metro does were something that Catoe inherited from his predecessors, Dick White and Dan Tangherlini. However, I got the distinct feeling that Catoe really didn’t want to do this chat, and that his hand might have been forced in doing it. Usually, you can submit your questions in advance. Not this time. For this chat, questions could only be submitted during the chat. And then for a chat that was advertised as an hour long, Catoe bolted after 45 minutes, saying, “Unfortunately I have to move on to my next appointment,” as he signed off early. And he didn’t answer my question:

Much attention has been given to the fact that the 1000-Series car telescoped during the recent accident, and this has led to the announcement that 1000-Series cars will be run in the middle of consists from now on. I read in the NTSB report about the 1996 collision at Shady Grove that the 3000-Series cars involved in that accident also telescoped. While the 3000-Series cars have since been rehabilitated and presumably are now more crashworthy, the 4000-Series cars are of similar age and appear to be of similar design as the 3000-Series cars prior to their rehab. Are the 4000-Series cars also subject to telescoping in a collision? If so, what has or will be done prior to these cars’ rehabilitation in a few years to prevent these cars from telescoping in a collision?

Yeah, I asked a hard question, and one that calls another 100 rail cars’ safety into question as well. After all, the first telescoping incident was a 3000-Series car, manufactured by Breda. See?

Final positions of trains in the 1996 Shady Grove accident
Photo: NTSB

So if the 3000-Series prior to rehab could telescope, as Breda 3252 did here, it is quite possible that the 4000-Series would also telescope, since the cars were of very similar design prior to the 3000s’ rehab, and all were manufactured prior to Metro’s having any major collisions (the only major incident prior to these cars’ manufacture was the 1982 Federal Triangle derailment). This also indicates that the design flaw is not unique to the 1000-Series. Now, though, the telescoping flaw on Metro’s older cars has been proven through three separate collisions. The first cars manufactured following a telescoping incident was the 5000-Series, and the 2000 and 3000-Series cars have been rehabbed, which I believe includes improving their crashworthiness. But the 4000s are still original.

Therefore I think I had a valid point. And Catoe weaseled out of it. I don’t think he was prepared for the fact that as soon as I learned of the chat the night before, I prepared my question, and then submitted it on my lunch hour at work as soon as the lines opened for the chat. Of course, Metro already has egg on its face about the safety of its older cars since they did nothing regarding the crashworthiness of 1000-Series cars following the Woodley Park-Zoo collision in 2004. Of course, to admit that the 4000-Series is also prone to telescoping in a collision would certainly make Metro’s job harder, even though the 4000s will be rehabbed in a few years. But it is a valid question, and as a daily rider, I believe I have a right to know.

Now, though, I’m waiting to see what the NTSB concludes regarding this most recent accident.

Web site: Wikipedia article about the 2009 accident. Let's just hope that there are no more accidents for a while...

Song: Final-episode theme for The Cosby Show

Quote: "Well, Catoe held a lunch chat today, and he answered a few easy questions and bolted, not even staying for the full hour. Chicken. I'm surprised he didn't answer my question, which calls into question the crashworthiness of the 4000s." - Me on railroad.net regarding the Lunchtalk chat.

Categories: WMATA