A federal safety investigator says that the older subway train that slammed into the back of another on Washington's Metro system yesterday, killing nine people and injuring at least 70, should have been replaced years ago because of safety concerns.
Debbie Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said today in a news conference that the subway train was part of an older series that her agency had repeatedly recommended transit authorities retrofit with new safety devices or phase out. Hersman said that these recommendations were not addressed.
It's the deadliest crash in Metro's 33-year history, and federal investigators are still searching for clues about the cause. Metro's trains are equipped with a computerized system that controls speed and braking to prevent trains from colliding. If two trains get too close, the computer system is supposed to automatically apply the brakes.
The rush-hour crash occurred yesterday afternoon on the heavily traveled Red Line between the Fort Totten and Takoma Metrorail stations. It's still unclear whether the train's age contributed to the crash.
"We don't know at this point whether or not the operator could have seen the train ahead of them in time to stop," Hersman said. "We're going to be conducting a thorough accident investigation."
The newer-series train that was struck carried nine data recorders that the safety board expects to recover and analyze. The other train, which is more than 30 years old, had no data recorders despite recommendations from the board that they be installed.
The board urged transit officials to upgrade or replace older subway cars after a 2004 accident at the Woodley Park Metro station near the National Zoo that injured 20 passengers.
Metro has 290 of the oldest series rail cars still in service, according to Metro's website.
Monday's crash continued to affect Washington commuters today. The normally busy Red Line had limited service, and the parallel MARC commuter train to Brunswick, Md., was suspended.