From reader CS:
In this season of Metro's discontent, I became curious about a safety issue that hasn't received a lot of attention: Metrorail train operators failing to make sure that all doors are properly closed after servicing a station platform.
This is no small concern, of course. Recall the 2002 incident in which a 58-year-old woman was seriously injured, after a Metro train dragged her the length of the platform at the Gallery Place/Chinatown station. And this blog itself recently noted a problem when a wheelchair became stuck and train doors repeatedly crashed down on it.
I decided to conduct a little experiment. Over the course of several weeks, I watched the platform while waiting for a train, or the train operator while seated in the first car of a train I had boarded. I looked to see whether the train operator ducked their head back into the cab before all of the red door warning lights on the exterior of the train had flashed off; or whether the operator ducked back into the cab before I could see the doors had physically closed.
I made observations on 20 trips. Of those, in nine cases – 45 percent – the train operator was back inside the cab before the red lights were out, or before the doors were closed.
In several cases, my observations were especially troubling.
In one, an operator had pulled out of the window and back into the cab while the doors were still half open.
In another, an operator was likewise out of the window, back across the cab, and actually seated before the doors had closed. Another incident, while not involving door closings, also made me worry.
At Dunn Loring station on the Orange Line, a Metro worker came aboard and joined the train operator, evidently a friend, in the operator's cab. The two proceeded to laugh and joke their way down the line to Vienna. I watched carefully – for three-quarters of the trip between the two stations, the train operator was facing sideways, engaged in conversation, with her eyes completely off the track ahead. If it was me, given all of Metro's problems in recent months, I think I'd make a pretty good effort at watching the track.
My little informal survey was just that – not comprehensive, and not scientific. No one lost life nor limb, or anything close, on the days I was watching. But should I have found ANY instances where the operator failed to make sure the doors were safely closed? Why are operators short-cutting safety? Are they under schedule pressure in the new era of manual mode?
So, how about it, Metro? Can you comment or explain what I saw? And please, if you do, spare us the standard safety-is-paramount spiel. We've heard that before. Speak to the issue involved. I'm really curious how this can be explained, especially since safety is supposedly the chief reason why the operators are there.
Also by CS:
Vienna's creepy tower
Rules don't apply?
Metro employee accused of screwdriver stabbing not guilty (Examiner)
Paris' bike sharing program failing (NY Times)