Jul 20, 2009
Nine people died and 80 were injured in the June 22 crash on the Washington, D.C. Metrorail.
Early reports, as usual, tried to blame the train operator, implying she was using her cell phone at the moment of the crash. But Jeanice McMillan, the train operator, was not texting or using her cellphone while driving the train. And, despite speculation in the media, she had applied brakes – at least 300 to 400 feet prior to the pile up.
No, the fault lay not with the operator, but with the Washington D.C. Transit Authority (Metro).
The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) told Metro as early as five years ago to replace or refurbish the 1000 series rail cars, which make up one third of the fleet and are over 30 years old. Two previous crashes on Metro – one in 1996, killing the driver of the moving train, and one in 2004, which injured 20 people – demonstrated that these old cars crumple horribly. And that’s what happened again on June 22, with the first car crumpling as it hit the stationary train.
That’s not all. The train detection system failed. On June 17 – five days before the crash – a crucial part of the system that maintains a safe distance between trains was replaced. After that repair, the system kept failing intermittently. According to the NTSB investigators, this system did not detect the presence of the stationary train.
Finally, it’s not clear the brakes worked. Brakes on the first two cars of the moving train were two months overdue for scheduled maintenance.
All these factors – old cars, overdue brake maintenance and problems with the track sensors – were the recipe for disaster.
Millions of passengers in cities across the United States ride old subway cars like the one that crumpled in the deadly Washington, D.C. crash. Six other large transit systems rely on older cars in poor or marginal condition: Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York and suburban New Jersey.
It’s criminal. There is money that could be spent on fixing the falling apart infrastructure – like public transportation. But local and federal governments give that tax money to the corporations and banks, benefitting only the wealthy.
That choice is responsible for nine more deaths.