News Q & A: June 22 Red Line Collision (Last updated at 4 p.m. 8/25/09)

En Español: Preguntas Frecuentes Sobre el Accidente en la Línea Roja

What are the details of the Red Line train collision?

Two six-car Red Line trains were on the same track headed toward Shady Grove Metrorail station at 4:58 p.m. Monday, June 22, when train 112 struck train 214.

Train operator Jeanice McMillan, who was operating train 112, died as result of the collision. Eight passengers also died in the accident. McMillan, 42, of Springfield, VA, had been a Metro employee since January 2007.

Train 112 was made up of all 1000-series rail cars (rail car numbers 1079, 1078, 1071, 1070, 1130 and 1131). Train 214 was made up of a combination of 3000- and 5000-series rail cars (rail car numbers 3036, 3037, 3257, 3256, 5067 and 5066).

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the lead agency that investigates the cause of accidents like this one. Its investigation, which may take many months, will determine the cause of the collision and make recommendations.

How many people died in the accident?

Nine people, including the train operator of the second train, died as a result of the collision. They are:

Mary Doolittle, 59, of Northwest Washington, DC
Veronica DuBose, 29, of Northwest Washington, DC
Ana Fernandez, 40, of Hyattsville, MD
Dennis Hawkins, 64, of Southeast Washington, DC
LaVonda King, 23, of Northeast Washington, DC
Jeanice McMillan, train operator, 42, of Springfield, VA
Ann Wherley, 62, of Southeast Washington, DC
Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr., 62, of Southeast Washington, DC
Cameron Williams, 37, of Washington, DC

How many people were injured?

76 people reported injuries from the collision and 51 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, according to emergency first responders who transported the injured people.

How can I check to see if one of my loved ones was on one of the trains?

People who believe their relatives may have been on board the trains involved in the accident can call 311 if they live in the District of Columbia or 202-737-4404 or 202-671-0722.

What is Metro doing to help the victims of the collision?

Metro's Board of Directors voted on June 23 to establish an emergency hardship relief fund of $250,000 to provide financial relief to the survivors and families of those whose loved ones lost their lives as a result of the accident. The fund is meant to assist the families with their medical, funeral and other immediate expenses.

Individuals seeking emergency relief fund assistance and customers who were on board train 112 or 214 can file an injury claim by calling 202-962-1681.

What caused the accident?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the lead agency that investigates the cause of accidents like this one. Their investigation, which may take many months, will determine the cause of the collision and make recommendations.

How long had the train operator been working for Metro?

Train operator Jeanice McMillan, 42, of Springfield, Va., had been a Metro employee since January 2007.

How often does an accident like this happen on Metro?

The only other time in Metrorail's 33-year history that there were customer fatalities was in January 1982, when three people died as a result of a derailment between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian Metrorail stations.

How safe is the Metrorail system?

Despite the tragedy of the June 22 collision, in which eight passengers and the train's operator died, our Metro system is among the safest in the nation. We are cooperating with the NTSB's investigation and working closely with the Tri-State Oversight Committee, American Public Transportation Association, and other organizations to make our system as safe as possible.

According to a recent Washington Post editorial, about 40,000 people nationwide were killed in traffic accidents in 2007, the last year for which totals are available. Heavy-rail transit, the technical term that includes Metrorail, had 25 fatalities. A total of 12 passengers and two Metro employees have been killed since the Metrorail system opened in 1976.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has reported that for the period from 2002 to 2008, heavy rail passenger fatalities occurred at a rate of .03 per 100 million passenger miles. In contrast, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has reported that from 2003 to 2007, passenger automobile fatalities occurred at rate of 0.87 per 100 million passenger miles, in other words, one is 29 times more likely to die from using an automobile for travel than when using heavy rail.

What steps is Metro taking to ensure the safety of the Metrorail system?

Metro is taking action on the urgent safety recommendation the NTSB issued to Metro on July 13 to enhance the safety redundancy of the train control system by using real-time data to detect losses in track occupancy and automatically generate alerts.

Metro is taking additional steps to ensure the safety of the Metrorail system:

  1. All Metrorail trains are being manually operated by train operators and will continue until further notice.
  2. Metro has inspected all of its 3,000 signaling circuits throughout the Metrorail system to ensure they are sending the correct signals between the trains, tracks and the Operations Control Center.
  3. Metro is running twice-daily computerized tests of the circuits, once after each rush hour, or 14 times per week.
  4. Metro plans to replace the 1000-series rail cars as soon as funding is available.
  5. Metro has contacted external experts in track signaling and circuitry from across the country to help determine what may have caused last month’s train collision. This effort includes the American Public Transportation Association and an independent review of critical components such as signals and circuitry.
  6. Metro is working with an existing contractor, ARINC, and other outside vendors on developing a real-time monitoring system that would detect circuit failures and generate alerts.
  7. Metro will continue to devote significant resources in preparation to promptly implement NTSB’s recommendations.

What can Red Line riders expect as the NTSB investigation continues?

The NTSB concluded its on-scene testing of the tracks between Fort Totten and Takoma Metrorail stations on July 31, and Metro has begun repair work at the site of the June 22 accident.

Red Line riders will continue to experience fewer and slower-moving trains throughout the month of August while Metro replaces track circuitry in the area of the accident, including several thousand feet of cable, and track and circuit-related hardware. The work is expected to take about 30 days.

Passengers can expect that their trips may take an additional 30 minutes or possibly more to complete, and they should build that additional time into their plans. Red Line riders may also notice:

  1. As a safety measure, trains will move one at a time at a reduced speed between the Takoma and Fort Totten Metrorail stations. Slower moving trains will cause other trains along the line to move slower and wait for the ones that are passing through the accident area. The result will be fewer trains along the busy Red Line because the systems ability to move more trains is impacted when they must move one at a time between the two stations.
  2. To get trains to Glenmont during backups caused by slower moving trains, some trains may be offloaded early and turned around. This will provide more service for people traveling from Glenmont or Silver Spring into downtown Washington.
  3. Passengers also may notice trains slowing down through certain sections of tracks on any Metrorail line where Metro workers are inspecting or repairing track signaling equipment. Metro is conducting more frequent and more stringent monitoring of its track signaling equipment as part of an effort to fulfill the NTSB’s recommendation of instituting greater review of track circuits and eventually developing a real-time monitoring system.

What can Orange, Blue, Yellow, and Green Line riders expect as the NTSB investigation continues?

Passengers may notice trains slowing down through certain sections of tracks on any Metrorail line where Metro workers are inspecting or repairing track signaling equipment. Metro is conducting more frequent and more stringent monitoring of its track signaling equipment as part of an effort to fulfill the NTSB’s recommendation of instituting greater review of track circuits and eventually developing a real-time monitoring system.

When is Takoma Metrorail station open?

Takoma Metrorail station on the Red Line will keep its regular hours until further notice. While Metro expects the Takoma Metrorail station to operate its normal hours for the next several days, NTSB investigation requirements may change the hours of operation. The normal hours of the station are 7 a.m. to midnight Sunday, 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday.

The NTSB investigation continues, and NTSB officials continue to remain on site. Metro will alert customers as soon as the NTSB notifies Metro of any need to close the Takoma Metrorail station for the purpose of its investigation between the Takoma and Fort Totten Metrorail stations.

How long will Red Line delays during rush hours continue?

Red Line riders will experience fewer and slower-moving trains throughout the month of August while Metro replaces track circuitry in the area of the accident, including several thousand feet of cable, and track and circuit-related hardware. The work is expected to take about 30 days.

Passengers can expect that their trips may take an additional 30 minutes or possibly more to complete, and they should build that additional time into their plans. Red Line riders may also notice:

  1. As a safety measure, trains will move one at a time at a reduced speed between the Takoma and Fort Totten Metrorail stations. Slower moving trains will cause other trains along the line to move slower and wait for the ones that are passing through the accident area. The result will be fewer trains along the busy Red Line because the system's ability to move more trains is impacted when they must move one at a time between the two stations.
  2. To get trains to Glenmont during backups caused by slower moving trains, some trains may be offloaded early and turned around. This will provide more service for people traveling from Glenmont or Silver Spring into downtown Washington.
  3. Passengers also may notice trains slowing down through certain sections of tracks on any Metrorail line where Metro workers are inspecting or repairing track signaling equipment. Metro is conducting more frequent and more stringent monitoring of its track signaling equipment as part of an effort to fulfill the NTSB’s recommendation of instituting greater review of track circuits and eventually developing a real-time monitoring system.

Which Metrorail cars were involved in the accident?

Train 112 was made up of all 1000-series rail cars (rail car numbers 1079, 1078, 1071, 1070, 1130 and 1131). Train 214 was made up of a combination of 3000- and 5000-series rail cars (rail car numbers 3036, 3037, 3257, 3256, 5067 and 5066).

What are the speed restrictions on the Red Line?

Metro reduced speeds following the June 22 accident to a maximum of 35 mph throughout the Red Line while investigators worked to determine the cause of the accident. Slower speeds help keep trains moving steadily along the line since trains moving through the investigation zone must move at an even slower pace. These speed restrictions were lifted on July 2.

Currently, Metrorail operators are permitted to operate trains at posted speeds throughout the Metrorail system.

How many rail cars are in the Metrorail fleet?

Metro has a total of 1,126 rail cars in its Metrorail fleet. There are 290 of the 1000-series rail cars, 364 of the 2000/3000-series rail cars, 100 of the 4000-series rail cars, 188 of the 5000-series rail cars and 184 of the 6000-series rail cars.

Is Metro planning to pull any rail cars from its fleet?

All operational Metrorail cars will remain in service.

What would happen if Metro removed all 1000-series rail cars from service?

Passengers would notice immediately. The 1000-series rail cars comprise approximately 25 percent of the rail fleet. Removing these cars from service would force a return to four- and six-car trains. Remaining cars would be extremely crowded with an increase of approximately 40 passengers per car.

Are Metro's 1000-series rail cars safe?

Under normal operating conditions, all of Metro's 1,126 Metrorail cars are safe, including the 1000-series rail cars. Metro is subject to oversight from the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC).

When is Metro planning to replace the 1000-series rail cars?

Metro is aggressively seeking to replace the 1000-series rail cars, which were purchased between 1974 and 1978. These cars have a 40-year life and require replacement beginning in early fiscal 2015.

The cost of replacing rail cars is about $3 million per car. There are nearly 300 1000-series rail cars. Metro needs at least $811 million in the next capital budget program to replace the 1000-series rail cars.

In the meantime, we have taking all reasonable steps to keep the 1000-series rail cars in good condition. All have been rehabilitated or rebuilt to increase their longevity.

Why hasn't Metro replaced or retrofitted all of the 1000-series rail cars?

Replacing almost 300 of the 1000-series rail cars would cost over $800 million, and retrofitting them would be nearly as costly as replacing them. The June 22 accident adds to the importance of replacing these cars as soon as possible. We are working aggressively to secure funding.

Metro's oldest rail cars, the 1000-series, are safe to operate, and they have been maintained and rehabilitated throughout their 30 to 33 years of use.

Did a problem with Metro's Automatic Train Operation (ATO) cause the accident?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the lead agency that investigates the cause of accidents like this one. Its investigation, which may take many months, will determine the cause of the collision and make recommendations.

Metro has been using Automatic Train Operations to operate its Metrorail trains during rush hours and other times of day since the Metrorail system opened in 1976. As a precaution, Metrorail trains currently are being operated manually by train operators until further notice.

What is Automatic Train Operations (ATO)?

Automatic Train Operations is a system that Metro has been using since the Metrorail system opened in 1976 to operate its Metrorail trains during rush hours and other times of day.

Throughout the Metrorail system, automatic train control rooms house vital electronics that assist in the movement of trains. The train control rooms send electronic signals to the tracks, which in turn, send signals into devices located between the tracks. When a train operates over one of these devices, the device relays that signal to the train in the lead car, and provides critical information to the train. These signals are also sent to the train even when the train is in manual operation.

Metro trains also are operated manually by train operators, usually during non-rush hours and whenever track maintenance is being performed and track workers are in a specific area of the track. As a precaution, Metrorail trains are currently being operated manually by train operators until further notice.

How does the train operator know the train is in ATO?

The train operator controls the mode of operation for the train and can switch between manual and ATO.

Does the train operator have to be in manual mode to activate the emergency brake?

The emergency brake can be activated in either manual or ATO.

Is the train operator at fault for the accident?

NTSB officials have stated that investigators found evidence the train operator attempted to stop the train before the collision. The emergency "mushroom" brake button was depressed and the steel rails showed evidence that the brakes were engaged, according to the NTSB.

Was the train operator using her cell phone at the time of the accident?

After the crash, investigators found the train operator's cell phone stored in her knapsack. Jeanice McMillan, the train operator, died in the collision.

Are Metro's train and bus operators permitted to use cell phones or other electronic devices while operating Metro vehicles?

Metro has a new, zero tolerance policy for employee use of electronic devices while operating Metro vehicles, which was adopted on July 13. While operating Metro vehicles, electronic devices must be turned off and out of sight. Use of any electronic devices is strictly prohibited. Metrobus and Metrorail operators caught using a cell phone, texting or using a PDA while operating a vehicle will be fired on their first offense.

What are track circuits?

Track circuits are electrical circuits that are part of a signal system that sends information, authorization and speed commands between the track and Metrorail trains. The circuits detect the presence of other trains and provide information that is used to maintain safe distances between trains. Track circuits are located on the tracks and in train control rooms.

Did a problem with Metro's track circuits cause the accident?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the lead agency that investigates the cause of accidents like this one. The agency has issued updates about its investigation and reported that a track circuit where the accident occurred periodically lost its ability to detect trains several days before the accident.

Since the accident, Metro has increased the frequency of its track circuit data review from once every 30 days to twice daily (14 times per week) and is doing a deeper level of analysis with more stringent requirements. Engineers review computerized reports after each rush hour and investigate every anomaly they see.

Metro is working with an existing contractor, ARINC, and other outside vendors on developing a real-time monitoring system that would detect circuit failures and generate alerts.

Why didn't Metro do something about the track circuit that was intermittently failing between June 17 and 22?

Repair work was done on this circuit on June 17 and was tested to ensure that it was working properly. At the time it was tested, all indications were that the circuit was working properly.

Since the accident, Metro has increased the frequency of its track circuit data review from once every 30 days to twice daily (14 times per week) and is doing a deeper level of analysis with more stringent requirements. Engineers review computerized reports after each rush hour and investigate every anomaly they see.

Metro is working with an existing contractor, ARINC, and other outside vendors on developing a real-time monitoring system that would detect circuit failures and generate alerts.

What indicators are there to show when a track circuit is not functioning properly? Are there alarms?

Although train controllers in Metro's operations control center can receive some indications when circuits are malfunctioning, the specific problem identified in the area of the accident did not provide an indication that would have been easily detectable to controllers in our operations control center.

What is Metro doing to prevent a similar problem with other track circuits?

Since the accident, Metro has increased the frequency of its track circuit data review from once every 30 days to twice daily (14 times per week) and is doing a deeper level of analysis with more stringent requirements. Engineers review computerized reports after each rush hour and investigate every anomaly they see.

Metro is working with an existing contractor, ARINC, and other outside vendors on developing a real-time monitoring system that would detect circuit failures and generate alerts.

Is Metro planning to replace its signaling system?

Metro will take whatever action is necessary to ensure the safety of the Metrorail system.

Why was Metro's Superintendent of Automatic Train Control reassigned shortly after the accident?

It is standard operating procedure for any Metro employee directly involved in an accident to be temporarily reassigned or relieved of their duties while there is an investigation underway.

Metro's Superintendent of Automatic Train Control was reassigned to a special project shortly after the accident. He returned to his regular duties on Monday, July 27.

What is an impedence or Wee-Z bond?

Wee-Z bonds are part of a signal system that sends information, authorization and speed commands between the track and Metrorail trains. Wee-Z bonds detect the presence of other trains and automatically transmit speed signals to a train as it passes over the Wee-Z bond, depending on the location and speed of other trains in the area. If one train enters a portion of track where another train has been detected to be in front of it, then the Wee-Z bond sends a signal that causes the following train to stop.

Did Metro know there was a problem with a Wee-Z bond for the track circuit where the accident occurred?

Metro normally conducts computerized analytical tests on a monthly basis to review what's taking place electronically in the rail system. During a special review of the data after the accident, Metro discovered that a newly installed Wee-Z bond in the area of the accident periodically lost its ability to detect trains five days before the accident.

The intermittent performance of a Wee-Z bond would be extremely difficult to detect by controllers in Metro's operations control center. Since the accident, Metro has increased the frequency of its track circuit data review from once every 30 days to twice daily (14 times per week) and is doing a deeper level of analysis with more stringent requirements. Engineers review computerized reports after each rush hour and investigate every anomaly they see.

How do you know other Wee-Z bonds and track circuits throughout the Metrorail system are safe?

Since the accident, Metro has increased the frequency of its track circuit data review from once every 30 days to twice daily (14 times per week) and is doing a deeper level of analysis with more stringent requirements. Engineers review computerized reports after each rush hour and investigate every anomaly they see.

What is Metro's response to the NTSB's Urgent Safety Recommendation issued on July 13?

The NTSB issued an urgent safety recommendation to Metro on July 13 to enhance the safety redundancy of the train control system by using real-time data to detect losses in track occupancy and automatically generate alerts.

Metro is working with an existing contractor, ARINC, and other outside vendors on developing a real-time monitoring system that would detect circuit failures and generate alerts.

What actions did Metro take in response to the NTSB findings following Metrorail collisions in 1996 and 2004?

The 1996 collision at Shady Grove was primarily attributed to icy conditions and restrictive directives to the operations control center that mandated operations only in automated mode. In response, Metro clarified its standard operating procedures. These changes have prevented similar accidents under similar conditions.

The 2004 collision at Woodley Park was due to operator error and failure to follow standard operating procedures. Since the accident, Metro is working to comply with the NTSB's recommendation to install rollback features in its rail cars.

What is Metro doing to communicate with riders about the accident and investigation?

Metro is taking a number of steps to communicate with riders during the accident investigation and repair work at the accident site::

  1. Metro is assigning additional personnel to high-volume Red Line stations during rush hours to assist with crowds.
  2. Metro is advising riders that trains continue to move slower along the Red Line and that trips may take up to 30 additional minutes of travel time.
  3. Metro is reminding riders that all six-car and eight-car trains are pulling to the front end of the platforms at all Metrorail stations on all color lines, and that customers can check the train arrival signs on platforms to find out how many cars are in each train.
  4. Metro created a special Web page about the Fort Totten Metrorail Station Accident and Investigation and is regularly posting information on the page.
  5. Metro is distributing informational flyers to riders.
  6. Metro is advising riders about Metrobus alternatives to Red Line service.

Who has safety oversight for Metro?

There are several levels of safety and security oversight by federal government agencies, a regional authority and through the North American transit industry. The oversight entities include:

  1. Federal Transit Administration (FTA): provides an extensive program of technical assistance and withholds grant funds for noncompliance with conditions of grants (including safety requirements).
  2. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB): investigates the probable cause of railroad accidents involving passenger trains or any train accident that results in at least one fatality or major property damage.
  3. Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC): state safety oversight entity (as mandated by law and FTA rules) created in 1997 through an MOU by the District of Columbia, State of Maryland and Commonwealth of Virginia
  4. American Public Transportation Association (APTA), a professional trade organization: Through its Safety Management Audit Program, APTA develops and implements a standardized format for rail system safety and provides an auditing service to determine the degree to which the standardized elements for rail transit system safety were being addressed.

What kind of insurance does Metro have?

Metro has business property and casualty insurance. The transit agency carries multi-risk insurance on the transit system covering direct physical loss or damage and public liability insurance covering injuries to people and property. Metro is covered under a layered program with a number of insurance carriers.


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