Disney, DC Crashes Spotlight Train Control Systems

With two OSHA investigators on the scene, Walt Disney World yesterday reopened the monorail line where one of its trains struck another train early Sunday morning, local newspapers reported.

One is a slow and quiet monorail moving millions of tourists annually, the other a workhorse urban subway system in the nation's capital. Both systems experienced crashes in the past two weeks that called into question automated train control systems that are thought to be practically fail-safe, and both systems quickly resumed operations, even with the specific causes of the crashes undetermined.

Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) reduced operating speed on its Red Line after the June 22 crash there until July 3 as outside experts helped WMATA analyze in-track equipment intended to detect trains and prevent collisions. The authority also reassigned some staffers, inspected all 3,000 track circuits, and switched all of its trains to manual operation pending recommendations from the team of outside experts.

WMATA General Manager John Catoe has sought to assure riders that the system is safe despite the crash, which he said "appears to be a freak occurrence." This seems to have worked: WMATA recorded the highest July 4 ridership in its history last Friday, with 631,206 passenger trips recorded that day.

The monorail crash early Sunday at Walt Disney World killed one train's operator. Although the crash is being investigated by two OSHA inspectors from the Tampa Area Office, the monorail line was cleared by OSHA and back in operation Monday, according to local newspapers' reports. The Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Disney told its employees the system is safe to operate after making "a thorough safety inspection and system checks." Disney's notice to employees mentioned having taken additional safety measures after the crash, but the notice gave no details, and a Disney spokeswoman would not elaborate, the newspaper reported.

Page 2 of the 40-page Report on Safety by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts says the report is a compilation of safety programs across the Parks and Resorts unit as of January 2008. The impressive, thorough document includes a full page (page 37) listing state, federal, and local agencies that administer mandatory or consensus standards applying to the parks' design, construction, or operation. The report does not specifically mention monorail operations.

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