General Manager John Catoe

Transcript: July 2, 2009

General Manager John Catoe photo

Metro General Manager John Catoe will respond directly to questions about the June 22 fatal collision on the Red Line and steps Metro is taking to ensure the safety of customers and the Metrorail system during an online chat this Thursday, July 2, when he hosts a live hour-long chat from noon to 1 p.m. Questions may be submitted starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 2. Visitors may post questions before and during the chat.

General Manager John Catoe:

This region has experienced a terrible tragedy with the June 22 collision of two Red Line trains. Our mission is to provide the safest transportation service possible, and I believe that we’ll find that, ultimately, many factors combined together to cause the accident that cost nine lives and more than 70 injuries. For anyone affected, I want to say, and I speak for all of Metro in this, I am sorry this accident happened. It is my firm belief that accidents should not happen, and that we will take any practical action to prevent them. We cannot eliminate the risk of an accident completely, though. If I said we could, you would rightly believe I was not taking my responsibilities seriously, because nothing can completely eliminate the risk. What I have said, and what you can trust in is this, we will take every practical step to reduce the likelihood of an accident and the magnitude of an accident should one happen.

We’ll learn from the NTSB’s investigation what the main factors were, and we will take practical steps to prevent those same factors from occurring again. In this, as in all things, we will take a practical approach. We will focus first on accident prevention, and second on reducing the size of any accidents that occur.

You have to make decisions on how you travel based on our response to the accident. That’s why things like these chats are so important. Let me recount the actions we’ve taken based on the information we have so far.

- All trains are operating in manual mode. Even without a final investigation report, we know that something went wrong with the automatic train control system. We will remain in manual mode until we are sure it is safe to return to automatic mode.
- As part of that decision we are inspecting the more than 3,000 track circuits installed on our rail system. These circuits provide the location information on our trains. We’ve tested 85% of them so far, and they’ve all passed inspection.
- As an added precaution, we will not put our trains back into automatic mode until we have a group of independent experts in train signaling and communication come in to evaluate our system and our procedures for using that system. The American Public Transportation Association will support the efforts of this independent review team, which will have a wealth of real-world experience. Deputy General Manager, Gerald Francis, will personally be responsible for the implementation of this team’s recommendations.
- While the investigation continues, trains are on the Red Line are running at speeds of no more than 35 miles-per hour, and of course they are moving much slower than that through the investigation site. The slower speed throughout the Red Line is to help us regulate the flow of trains. Once the investigation is complete, we will determine if there will be permanent changes to our operating procedures.
- Now, each of the steps above can be categorized as accident prevention. The last step I’ll talk about is one that we hope will minimize the size of an accident if there is one. We have decided to place all 1000-series cars in the center of trains, rather than at the head or tail of trains. This is an attempt to make those cars less vulnerable to a collision. As of yesterday, at least 85% of the cars have been moved, and we expect to have the job complete in a few more days.
That last action deserves further discussion.

The NTSB has recommended that we either retrofit or replace the 1000 Series railcars.

Let’s discuss the idea of a retrofit first. A study was done on the 1000 Series cars in 2002, and it found that a retrofit of these railcars by adding an under-frame reinforcement wasn’t practical and, in fact, might result in more injuries. These cars are going to be replaced, anyway, so it isn’t practical to do this sort of work on something you will soon retire. You wouldn’t overhaul the engine of an automobile you were going to trade-in either.

That leaves replacement, and we are going to replace these railcars. The 7000 Series railcar procurement process is underway, and we will buy these cars to expand the fleet for Dulles and to replace the 1000 Series cars at the next available opportunity. We are ready to go. All we need is the money.

Unfortunately, getting that money is no small thing. The cost of replacing railcars is about $3 million per car, and there are nearly 300 in this series. We need nearly 1 billion dollars in the next capital budget program to do this. We were supported by our congressional delegation in trying to get dedicated funding in the President’s budget. Our congressional delegation submitted a request for funding in this year’s budget and that budget process is ongoing.

If we got this money today, it could be three to four years until we see these new railcars in service. So what should we do until those railcars are operating? Without getting too deeply into the math, it is reasonable, for discussion purposes, to say that if we remove one-quarter of our fleet from service, we will either carry one quarter fewer people or take 25% more time to carry them during rush hour. Even is bus ridership goes up, that still means far more crowded platforms and trains, or it means far more people on the roads in their personal vehicles. That has safety implications as well. Of course, unless we’re risk analysts, we evaluate these risks differently than we do the risk of a train collision, but these risks are there and must be considered when we weigh our options.

So until we have the funds, and can buy, test and field the replacements, we will continue to run the 1000 Series railcars, but that we run them in the center of our trains. I hope that this would help reduce their vulnerability to a crash. More than that though, my goal is to never find out. I never want to see another accident again, and I will devote even more energy and resources than ever to accident prevention.

Let me take your questions.


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arlington , va: For tomorrow, July 3rd, the WMATA website show Metrobus operating under a 'July 4th Special Schedule'. What does this mean?

Reply: Hello Arlington. Friday, July 3 is a Federal holiday, and so Metrorail and Metrobus will operate on a Saturday schedule. The rail system will open at 7 a.m. and close at 3 a.m. During the day, trains on all lines will operate every 12 minutes. After 8 p.m., trains will operate every 15 to 20 minutes from the ends of each line.

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Washington, DC: Since the train wreckage, what efforts are being made to re-train all metro staff on emergency response? Additionally, over the last couple of days - the metro police staff have not been very visible. What efforts are being made to increase the police staff - so they are a lot more visible?

Reply: Hi Washington. Upcoming for July 4, the Transportation Security Administration will have four security teams in the Metrorail system to assist Metro Transit Police. The TSA teams patrol alongside a MTPD team and are a high visibility unit. Typically over the holiday weekend we have a larger than usual deployment of officers. On July 7, the Montgomery County Police Department will be conducting high visibility patrols at stations in Montgomery County with MTPD. July 7th marks the anniversary of the London bombings.

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Bethesda, MD: Are trains going to resume turning around at Grovesnor? Are more trains going to be put into service?

Reply: Hello Bethesda. At this time, all trains are operating to Shady Grove and Glenmont. We are not able to turn back trains at Grosvenor because of the current 35mph limit on the Red Line and even slower speeds between Fort Totten and Takoma. If we continued to do the turn backs, it would create even greater congestion in the downtown core of the Red Line. Once we enhance speeds on the Red Line, and place more trains into service, we will resume the normal turn backs during the morning and afternoon rush hour at Grosvenor and Silver Spring.

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Washington , DC: There is significant crowding on the Red Line. While the overall majority of passengers are patient and understanding of the circumstances, there have been a few flare ups as a result of the crowding. What measures are you taking to alleviate the crowding and when will service on the Red Line resume to normal?

Reply: Hi Washington. Obviously one of the reasons for the crowded conditions isthe speed restriction that is in place. Those restrictions will remain in place until we complete our on-site investigation in the accident zone. Later this afternoon we will make a decision on what speeds Red Line trains will be running on Friday (tomorrow) and throughout the holiday weekend. When that decision is made, we'll post it on our web site. There is no action we can take to alleviate the crowded conditions until we can return to normal speeds. If the conditions are such that you may want to consider another option, I suggest Metrobus. The schedules and routes are available on our Web site.

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Washington, DC: Mr. Catoe,I read a few days ago that switching 1000-series cars to the middle of trains will interfere with the LED displays. This made me realize that the LED displays almost never work anyway, simply displaying the color of the line. The only time I have seen them display station information is on some (not all) 6000-series cars. Most of your cars except for the oldest ones seem to have LED displays, so why do they almost never work? Also, what sort of displays and information are going to be in the 7000-series cars?Thank you, and I hope you can get the trains running in auto mode at fast speeds as soon as possible!

Reply: Hi Washington. You are right, the LED displays won't work when they are mixed in with older cars. You wanted to know what new features are planned for the 7000 Series cars. Here is a link to a 2008 presentation that relates to features we are considering for the 7000 Series cars. http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/board_of_directors/board_docs/092508_8A7000SeriesRailcar.pdf

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Alexandria, VA: Are airbags an option for operators? What are safety issues on operator airbags, if any?

Reply: Hi Alexandria. I'm not aware of any type of airbag device for transit vehicles.

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Springfield, VA: Dear Mr. Catoe,Two things1) Even if you took all 292 1000 series car out of service, you'd stll have 824 cars left - just enough for service. I see that Metro has some 300 cars sitting at railyards out of service, put those in service and take the 1000 series of service.2) You should mix and match the series. The should stay together to work better. When they built the 5000 and 6000 series models, I don't think they were designed to connect to the older models. The led station signs in the railcars don't work properly when they are connected to different series. So, keep the series togehter. I don't want to see a 6000, 1000 5000 series coupled together. That is wrong.

Reply: Hi Springfield. You are not taking into account regular maintenance of the fleet that must take place each day. For instance, we may have to hold several cars for their monthly routine inspections. Sort of like when you have to take your car in for an oil change. So we do indeed need to have more cars available. We need 850 for the morning and evening rush, so we rotate the ones undergoing maintenance in and out of that 850 grouping. Also, we need to have "spares" to allow for cars with mechanical difficulties to be able to be removed and repaired. We are mixing and matching the series of cars that are put together into a train consist. We prefer to keep the same series together, but now as we are putting the 1000s in the center ("bellying") of the trains, that is much less likely to be occuring.

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Glenmont, MD: I commute for an hour one way every day most of it on the Red Line. Despite everything, it still beats driving. I really dont care so much about crowded trains. On occasion, I can even do a car whose air conditioning system is shot. I dont care about handles, or whether the seats are red or blue. Give me an old car or a new one. Thats all fine with me as long as the train moves. What the events of the last week have emphasized is that the whole flipping system is bursting at its seams. Chaos reigns and nobody is telling you anything. There was a situation at Fort Totten that fateful Monday and I had to rely on passengers with mobile equipment to tell me what had happened. More than a week later, all we know is that trains are moving slower. Why? Because of the investigations. Well, I pass by investigation zone twice a day and I dont see anyone investigating anything. At least not in a way that would explain why trains back up three stops behind and up front. Metros web site doesnt say anything about how long this situation is believed to impact traffic. Sure, I can learn all about the 1,000 car series, the switches and what not but I think I already mentioned that I dont care about what car I am riding. I just want to know when they are riding again. Ah, and did I mention that a circular line would really make sense? With regard to traffic, the DC area is approaching conditions similar to Manila which I think is pretty ridiculous.

Reply: Hi Glenmont. The evening of the accident and through the next morning, we issued e-alerts, news releases, tweets, and made station announcements and posted information on our passenger information display signs at our platforms and mezzanines. Our news releases were also posted to the web site, which was viewed more than one million times, almost double the number of times it was viewed the previous Monday. We issued 13 e-alerts issued on the accident that day to as many as 53,000 subscribers. Having said that, I do feel that we can provide better information about the scope of the problem, and we’ve already started to do that. For example, our e-alerts now have more detailed information to help our riders make decisions on what their options are. Some of the investigative work is done at night, some is being done from off-site, but relates to the site. But keep in mind that until we can pinpoint the problem, we are moving trains through the area one at a time to be as safe as possible and that is why we are slowing down train movements.

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Question: How long is the Red Line going to be delayed, and what can you expect as far as train arrival times?

Reply: Hi. Please check our web site later today. When we get a little more information on how our testing is going, we'll update our news release about service plans for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our aim is to return to normal train speeds as quickly and safely as possible.

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Washington , DC: Was the faulty circuit replaced 5 days before the Metro crash tested at any point before the crash - to see if it was working correctly?

Reply: Hello Washington. Yes, it was, and at the time of that test it was functioning.

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College Park, MD: How can I as a customer trust the word of metro when alerts we get when there are problems are often watered down lies? The whole day of the accident, the alerts were stating that there was a train with mechanical difficulties. And furthermore, why are delays not reported until the last possible minute? I understand that you want to improve the integrity of metro and appear that problems are being rectified quickly, but our time is valuable and we need to know ASAP.

Reply: Hi College Park. Since the accident we have improved the information level in our e-alerts. For example, on Monday of this week someone was struck and killed when he intentionally placed himself in front of a train. The e-alert said the delay was caused because someone was struck by a train. In the past, the message would have been more likely to say due to a police situation. I agree that the more detailed information that you have makes it easier for you to determine your next move--whether you want to continue on the rails or find another option.

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Washington, DC: Why is it that Metro is just now thinking of putting the 1000 series cars in the middle of the train. Could this have happened years ago.

Reply: Hello Washington. I want to be sure you know that I have not received any information that leads me to believe that any of the causes of this accident were due to the use of the 1000 Series railcars. As you are aware, these cars are the oldest part of our fleet, but they are safe to operate, and they have been maintained and rehabilitated throughout their 30 to 35 years in service. Please keep in mind that just as newer model automobiles have more safety features, newer railcars have better crash-resistance. When the initial recommendation came from the NTSB to modify or replace those railcars, a study was commissioned. That was in 2002, and the study found that further rehabilitation of those cars to improve crashworthiness by adding an under frame reinforcement was “neither practical nor desirable” because that modification could result in more injuries. Our plan was to replace those railcars at the end of their service life. At that time, the NTSB found that to be acceptable. Just as most people can’t trade up to the newest model automobile every time an automobile manufacturer designs a stronger vehicle with added safety features, we can’t trade-up to the newest railcar designs every year. People didn't trade in their old cars when airbags began being installed in the newer models, even though the newer models with airbags were safer. In 2006, the NTSB recommended that Metro retrofit the 1000 Series cars, or retire them sooner than we planned. As a retrofit was not practical, as early as last year we chose to replace them. The 7000 Series procurement process is underway. Basically, we have started the process to replace the 1000 Series cars at the next available opportunity. We are ready to go. All we need is the money. Because immediate replacement isn’t practical because of the financial and time constraints we are under, our focus was and is to run those railcars as safely as possible. In the meantime, we are surrounding the 1000s with newer cars to help protect them. Though it may seem to be a simple solution, it has not been, to my knowledge, a standard industry practice. So this is something new that we are doing to reduce damage to the 1000 Series cars in the remote possibility of a collision. As always, though, our top priority is to prevent collisions.

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Germantown, MD: What proactive steps are being taking to ensure that a fiasco such as the one that happend a couple weeks ago, will not happen again?

Reply: Hi Germantown. Let me recount the actions we’ve taken based on the information we have so far. - All trains are operating in manual mode. Even without a final investigation report, we know that something went wrong with the automatic train control system. We will remain in manual mode until we are sure it is safe to return to automatic mode. - As part of that decision we are inspecting the more than 3,000 track circuits installed on our rail system. These circuits provide the location information on our trains. We’ve tested 85% of them so far, and they’ve all passed inspection. - As an added precaution, we will not put our trains back into automatic mode until we have a group of independent experts in train signaling and communication come in to evaluate our system and our procedures for using that system. The American Public Transportation Association will support the efforts of this independent review team, which will have a wealth of real-world experience. Deputy General Manager, Gerald Francis, will personally be responsible for the implementation of this team’s recommendations. - While the investigation continues, trains are on the Red Line are running at speeds of no more than 35 miles-per hour, and of course they are moving much slower than that through the investigation site. The slower speed throughout the Red Line is to help us regulate the flow of trains. Once the investigation is complete, we will determine if there will be permanent changes to our operating procedures. - Now, each of the steps above can be categorized as accident prevention. The last step I’ll talk about is one that we hope will minimize the size of an accident if there is one. We have decided to place all 1000-series cars in the center of trains, rather than at the head or tail of trains. This is an attempt to make those cars less vulnerable to a collision. As of yesterday, at least 85% of the cars have been moved, and we expect to have the job complete in a few more days.

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Forest Heights, MD: Good afternoon Mr. Catoe,Any chance that Metro will place advisory bulletins outside stations before passengers pay their fare? This would give passengers the option of using other forms of transportation such as, the MetroDC bus, catching a cab or walking.June 22 was a very tragic situation that many of us wish did not happen. There are still improvements that need to be made but overall the system is very convenient and reliable.

Reply: Hi Forest Heights. We currently have passenger information display signs on the mezzanines before you pay your fare. We do not currently have them at sidewalk/street level. We currently are evaluating bids from companies that want to install this type of external signage for us. We expect to take some action on that later this year. If you have a cell phone, I recommend that you sign up for e-alerts.

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Arlington, VA: what metro team have taken steps to check for the possibility of similar accidentcrashes in other stations and signal stops. your team should ensure all other signalscomponents are not failing, by conducting the same tests in all the signals and train stop area

Reply: Hello Arlington. We are checking all 3,000 of our track circuits. This morning I was told that 85% have been inspected and all of them passed inspection.

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General Manager John Catoe: That’s all I have time for now. I’d like to end with a note of gratitude for the phone calls and letters we’ve received expressing sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident and for those who were injured. I also want to thank the Metro employees who have been working to help the NTSB with their investigation and all the other employees who have been working to provide service during this difficult time. Finally, a thank you to those customers who have shown so much patience during the last two weeks.


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