Most of us here in DC will remember the horrible Metro accident on the Red Line in 2009. Nine people were killed and numerous other passengers were injured. The cause was determined to be faulty Automatic Train Control Modules. These modules are used to enable the rail system to run in fully automated mode. Unfortunately it transpired that some of those units around the Fort Totten station were defective and did not function properly, causing a train approaching the Fort Totten station to rearend a train discharging passengers at that station. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that the operator of the approaching train was not able to see the stationary train because of a curve in the rail line just before the station.
The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigated this incident and eventually found that many more of the Automatic Train Control Modules across the Metro system were defective. The board also issued a scathing report concerning Metro's safety culture. (Report link here) In any event Metro decided to operate in "manual" mode until the modules on the Red Line could be replaced. Apparently this has been accomplished and Metro is to begin running in "automatic mode" in December.
The blog "unsuckdcmetro" has this to say about it:
Metro is aiming to restore Automatic Train Operation (ATO) on the Red Line December 1, said a source with in-depth knowledge.
ATO, which basically takes the train operator out of the equation and ostensibly provides a smoother ride, was suspended in 2009 after the Ft. Totten crash that killed nine people.
Over the past years, Metro has been replacing hundreds of Automatic Train Control modules along the Red Line. Put simply, the modules are small radios placed along the tracks that tell trains to stop, go, speed up or brake. Fundamentally, they are supposed to keep the trains from colliding. The system failed on June 22, 2009. When working properly, these modules can allow for Automatic Train Operation.
During a Nov. 1 meeting of the Safety and Security Committee meeting, Metro's number two, David Kubicek said "the Red Line, for all practical purposes, is done."
But don't get too excited for smoother rides just yet.
Another action Metro took after the 2009 crash, namely bellying the1000-series cars in a PR stunt, will likely eliminate any smoother ride ATO might offer.
According to another Metro source:
Even though the engineers say they brake and accelerate the same, we out here know better than to buy that line of bullsh*t. All one needs to do is stand on the train in the middle where anything is coupled to a 1000 series. All you hear and feel during [acceleration or braking] is the train couplers bucking, and on some, you actually feel it in your feet.
Oh, and don't get your hopes up for a return to ATO on the other lines any time soon.
At the Safety and Security Committee meeting, Kubicek said it would be two to three years before ATO could return to the other lines.
He said 900 ATC modules needed to be installed on the Orange and Blue lines while another 220 were needed on the Yellow and Green lines.
Kubicek said the warranty on the new modules was one year, but could not give information about their failure rate when pressed by board member Anthony Giancola.
A source in Metro tells me the failure rates are very high on the new modules. That doesn't mean another crash will occur.
"It's brand new stuff, but it's garbage," said a source. "Metro signs the contract and buys it. We're stuck with it. [Vendors] just install it and leave, and the next morning the stuff starts to fail. For all the money we're spending, we should be getting better return on our investment."
As an interesting side note, the Silver Line is being built with Automatic Train Control modules made by a different vendor from the ones Metro is installing.