Monday, August 10, 2009

Metro's Dirty Laundry

Since the June 22 crash, Metro would like to give the impression it has gone the extra mile to improve communications with us.
They've made a Web page about the crash, they've issued behind the scenes videos of their operations, they've made flyers, they provided information about the status of track circuits. Catoe even rode the train and was treated with "thanks and praise."
Yet if the Washington Post is to be believed, all of this seeming openness is merely a snow job to hide what's really going on.
It would appear, the Post says, that Metro has been covering up important details from all of us--since March 2--when the system experienced a problem in the automatic train control that resulted in a "near miss" at Potomac Ave.
Thanks to an alert driver who applied the brakes, another 6/22, or worse, was avoided.
Metro maintains the two events are unrelated, and we suppose that could be the case, but another damning article by the Post about track circuit failures was never retracted, despite Metro's claim that many of the facts were wrong.
In Metro's answer to the most recent charge, they tellingly do not deny the Post's findings that there was a block violation, two trains sharing the same stretch of track, a HUGE safety no no that should never occur.
The bigger picture here is that Metro isn't forthcoming--not with riders, the press or the government agency responsible for investigating the worst accident in its history. UPDATE: The Post now reports that Metro did, in fact, tell the NTSB about the March incident.
Really, why should they be? They're accountable to no one (here and here).
Metro's does post daily disruption reports, but they're vague almost to the point of being laughable. Here, for example, is the "disruption report" from March 2:
3:40 p.m. An Orange Line train at Potomac Ave in the direction of Vienna was taken out of service because of a mechanical problem, and customers were required to exit the train.
Sounds pretty innocuous, lamentably like any number of hundreds of break downs that have occurred over the past several months.
Metro should have been open about what happened in March and said what they were going to do to fix it. Perhaps that would have caused them to re-examine the automatic train control system, possibly avoiding 6/22 altogether. We'll never know.
Instead, Metro buried it, made no apparent changes in how it operates, and now that the story surfaced after a deadly crash, the agency looks even worse.
Remember when Metro bellyached about how it is perceived by the public?
Still sticking to that one, WMATA?
There is a major "us vs. them" mentality growing on our mass transit system, and Metro's lack of candor and transparency is a big cause.
On the other hand, since there's no one who can tell Metro how to behave, why should they do the right thing?

Other items:
Metro employee does during track repair (WMATA)
Post catching onto the no regulation story (WaPo)
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