2009 Metro crash: WMATA set to admit fault

Nine people were killed in the 2009 crash between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations. (Photo: NTSB)

WASHINGTON (AP/ABC7) - More than two years after two Metro Red Line trains crashed between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations, WMATA is admitting responsibility for the accident.

In documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, Metro and three other companies say they will accept liability for the June 22, 2009 crash that killed nine people and injured dozens more as rush hour was about to begin.

The admission of fault is little consolation to Kenneth Hawkins, though, who lost his older brother in the train collision.

"They should have stepped up in the beginning and reached out to the victims and the families," Hawkins said. "(They should have) said 'we apologize for the accident and apologize for taking the life of your loved one.'"

Terms of the settlements have not been disclosed, though settlements in similar cases have been in the millions of dollars. The first wrongful death case was settled in December and the latest in the last week of January.

WMATA has settled with a majority of the victim's families, but the court filing was the first public admission of fault.

Patrick Regan, a lead attorney for the families, says the remaining two wrongful death cases are set to go to trial in March.

Regan said Wednesday that Metro's acknowledgment of liability, which was first reported by the Washington Examiner, will shorten the length of any potential trial.

"I think it's good that they have allowed those families to bring some closure to this horrific tragedy. I'm happy that they've done that," Regan said.

In the aftermath of the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized Metro, saying that the accident was preventable. It found that the automated systems used throughout the system should have stopped the trains from being on the same track at the same time.

MORE: Read the full NTSB accident report.

The report said that the system failed to detect a stopped train and told a train behind it to continue. But investigators for the NTSB also faulted the agency for chronic problems and a negligent attitude toward safety.

The victims of the crash, six women and three men, included a nursing student, a former commanding general of the D.C. National Guard and his wife, a mortgage banker, as well as the driver of one of the trains.

The two remaining death cases that have yet to settle involve LaVonda King, a mother of two, and Ana Fernandez, a mother of six. Regan said he didn't expect those cases to settle before trial.

In addition to Metro, the settlements involved Italian-owned Ansaldo, which provided software and equipment used by the system; Maryland-based ARINC, which provided a warning system designed to detect and track trains, and Alstom, a French company that provided the circuit that ultimately failed.

A spokesman for Alstom declined to comment as did a spokesman for Metro, Dan Stessel, who said the transit agency would decline comment as a matter of policy because the case is still ongoing.