NTSB Finishing Transit Hearing Today
How well the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's automatic train control system performs is a central issue for the three-day hearing into the June 2009 collision of two WMATA trains, but the larger issue is that the transit agency is at a crossroads.
Two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains collided on June 22, 2009, raising questions about the performance of the famed Washington, D.C. transit system's automated train control system that is designed to prevent collisions. But the June 22 collision, in which eight passengers and one train operator died, was not the only recent safety incident for the Metrorail system, which has experienced derailments and fatal incidents involving track workers.
Today the National Transportation Safety Board will finish a three-day public hearing on the June 2009 collision and the transit agency's safety. The larger issue is that WMATA is at a crossroads, facing a $189.2 million shortfall in its fiscal 2011 operating budget, raising its Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess fares by 10 cents this Sunday through June 26 to help close that funding gap, and trying to find a total of $11.4 billion to meet its identified capital needs through 2020. The agency's Capital Needs Inventory notes Congress in 2008 passed legislation authorizing up to $1.5 billion in federal money for Metro’s capital program over 10 years if matched by WMATA's funding partners, but that money is dependent on annual appropriations "and alone will not address Metro’s daunting capital needs," the document states. "Only through significant support from the federal government, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia will Metro be able to fulfill its critical role in the region."
Testimony at the hearing has focused on aging equipment used by the agency, but a representative of Alstom, maker of some of the signaling equipment WMATA uses for its rail system, said Wednesday during the hearing that WMATA had mixed parts made by different manufacturers and thus put the safety of its signaling system at risk, The Washington Post reported.
WMATA operates more than 1,100 trains serving 86 stations on 106 miles of track, about 1,500 buses, and more than 500 MetroAccess vehicles.
WMATA's online page of documents about the June 22 collision is available here.