2009 Metro crash: NTSB closes safety recommendations

Nine people were killed in the June 2009 Red Line crash. Photo: NTSB

Commuters who take Metro could soon have a quicker, smoother ride.

The National Transportation Safety Board moved closer to approving Metro's return to an automated system.

More than three years after a Metro Red Line crash killed nine people and injured dozens more near the Fort Totten station, a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation may have the agency taking its first steps toward automating some aspects of the rail system since the accident.

'"When you move to an automated system you have that confidence that things can move a little quicker, you can run tighter schedules and improve your on-time performance," said Metro General Manager Richard Sarles.

The NTSB said Thursday that it had closed five safety recommendations that WMATA said it had completed, including one that saw Metro address issues with real-time track occupancy data, which would automatically generate alerts that trains were too close to each other on the same track.

Those alerts, in turn, would generate actions such as immediately stopping or slowing down trains.

According to the Washington Examiner's Kytja Weir, the NTSB also endorsed a new tool that would monitor those track circuits.

Nine people were killed and 80 were injured when two southbound Red Line trains collided on the tracks in Northeast Washington on June 22, 2009. More than a year later, an NTSB investigation concluded that a faulty track circuit, which was used as part of the automation of trains throughout the Metro system, malfunctioned and didn't alert the trains that they were too close to each other.

Several other NTSB recommendations must still be implemented and remain open, including the replacement of Metro's 1000-series rail cars, the oldest ones still in use by WMATA. Both Metro GM Richard Sarles and Mort Downey, the chairman of the agency's safety committee, say that this replacement will take time.

The final design process for the new 7000-series cars, which are being produced by Kawasaki and will replace the oldest train cars in the Metro fleet, is ongoing.