Tuesday, June 23, 2009


According to the Washington Post this morning, "experts familiar with Metro's operations focused last night on a failure of the signal system and operator error as likely causes of yesterday's fatal Red Line crash."
At this morning's press conference, an NTSB spokeswoman said it recommended Metro retro fit or phase out 1000-series cars. They did not.
NTSB also recommended adding sensors to 1000-series cars. WMATA did not.
UPDATE: WaPo now reporting the"train car that slammed into another on the Red Line yesterday evening was two months past due for scheduled maintenance on its brakes."
After several months all up in Metro's grill, we felt pretty confident that yesterday's tragic carnage is on WMATA. If we end up being wrong, we'll close this blog down.
We've been documenting, and often laughing at, Metro's problems for several months now. What started as a breezy lark, has turned into something much more than we ever thought it would be.
“How could we possibly fill a blog up with stuff about Metro?” we asked ourselves back in January.
Until yesterday, it has been embarrassingly (for Metro) easy—and fun (for us).
Some said we were nitpicking Metro, but we always believed the warts we could see as riders were symptoms of a deeper sickness.
And with yesterday's “mechanical failure” (that is what Metro was calling it for a while), it all stopped being fun and funny.
Metro's problems aren't humorous any more, they're deadly.
Sure, we chuckled about how drivers could not remember how many cars were on their train; one reader wrote about how he had to escape from a crippled car; we have written about what seems like poor driving by Metro operators and how a crippled train had to be pushed by another train after it got stuck under the Potomac. (During this incident communication breakdowns seemed only to make the situation more precarious. A precursor, perhaps?)
Time and time again, we've conveyed riders' irritation, anger and exasperation about consistent delays and breakdowns. Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
And it only seemed to get worse.
We've documented how Metro employees don't seem to take their jobs seriously, and when they do, they're mean and meaner about it.
We wrote about how Metro workers don't follow Metro's own rules, eating in the system and parking for the entire day at the Kiss and Ride. Who knows what else?
We started this whole thing just a few months ago, and ALL that has happened.
It's an incredible litany of dysfunction.
We got so fed up with Metro that months ago we asked readers if GM John Catoe should step down.
Instead, he was awarded best mass transit manager in the U.S., basically hanging his hat on Metro's safety record.
Suddenly, Metro doesn't feel so safe. All those past herky jerky rides make us wonder what was happening in those dark tunnels that we couldn't see.
Today, very sadly, many area families will never see a loved one again. Many are injured. The commute for tens of thousands will be snarled for days in the nation's capital.
Metro and the jurisdictions that fund Metro should be ashamed of themselves. Not only have they seen fit to provide us a third rate mass transit system, they now have a system that kills its passengers.

Crashworthiness of Metro cars (City Paper)
Previous crashes (NBC Washington)
GGW's roundup

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Soulfull said...

Excellent observations. I recently found your blog thru twitter and some of the very issues you brought up are reasons why I avoid riding the train as much as possible. Having worked in DC for 10 years, I've spent at least 2-3 of those years, riding the train back and forth to the MD suburbs. Today, I feel so sad for those who lost their lives depending on a system that has been in need of a major overhaul for years. May God rest the souls of those lost and bring courage to the families of those lost. Lastly, may WMATA FINALLY get their act together and do right by all the commuters and ESPECIALLY those that passed away.

Anonymous said...

Shameful? Yes. Preventable? Absolutely. Those trains should have been phased out long ago, but because Congress refuses to fund Metro, they haven't been. There are a million and one ways that yesterday's accident could have been prevented, yet it still happened.

But while I'm not excusing Metro's failures (and they are legion, believe me), I feel like it's necessary to point out that even with yesterday's incident, Metro still has a pretty good safety record. Think of how many trips people take without any sort of major incident like yesterday's. Compared to driving, Metro, like flying, is still extremely safe.

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. John Catoe must GO!

"mechanical difficulties" is not a catastrophic crash closing the east side of the Red Line for the foreseeable future.

Metro failed. Metro's "Alert" system failed. I want accountability!

Stephanie said...

I agree with Melissa. Seeing a major accident during rushhour on the beltway is an extremely common occurence, seeing a crash on the metro? Rare. (15 deaths in 33 years...versus thousands in 33 years...).

Unsuck DC Metro said...

Yes, rail, even Metro is safer than driving, but that doesn't excuse apparently willful disregard for NTSB recommendations.

Anonymous said...

I agreed with your entire post until the final line, which completely lost me. Your claim that metro is a third rate system is a gross exaggeration and quite frankly came off as offensive and disrespectful of the lives that were lost.

I agree that Metro has problems and I generally find the posts of this blog to be fair and accurate measurements of the system with reasonable conclusions and recommendations; however, your claim that Metro "kills its passengers" is egreggious and downright disprespectful.

This is the first accident of passenger loss of life in more than 27 years. For the second highest-volume mass-transit system in the nation, I would contend that that is a pretty reasonable record. Calling it third-rate is ignorant of this fact.

I absolutely agree that Metro's PR of this incident has been shameful, at best. I feel like U2's "City of Blinding Lights" summarizes up Metro's PR blunder best, "the less you find out as you go."

Again, I generally agree with this post and generally do believe in this blog's purpose of collecting the information on what WMATA is doing wrong to make it better. But calling it a third rate system that kills its passengers is negligent of the facts and flat out disrespectful of the situation.

Anonymous said...

Uh. Metro just did kill a lot of people. couldn't disagree with your comment more. this post is right on

Anonymous said...

I think that misses the point. I don't pay $9 five days a week thinking that I am seriously putting my life at risk by riding Metro. The fact that there was a deadly passenger accident for the first time in 27 years should not be akin to claiming that Metro "kills people." I have riden on other mass-transit systems in the country which have far worse safety records than Metro, and I would contend as well that they don't "kill people." Yes, I realize that people were killed yesterday while riding Metro. But saying that Metro kills people is a pretty outlandish and I think unwarrented statement and I don't think is an accurate assessment of Metro's actual safety record.

Unsuck DC Metro said...

We're sorry you find the characterization offensive or unwarranted. We stand by it, however.

Anonymous said...

When Catoe was a guess on the Koj Nambe (spelling?) show a few weeks back, he sounded like an eggregiously arrogant bureaucrat, blaming the CUSTOMERS (passengers) for all the problems (like deactivated cards, etc.) He started the accountability-dodging campaign to make riders more polite (turning customers against one another while sidestepping Metro's job in improving things). They tout their stupid security cams and crack down on eating, etc, hire more and more cops with big toys, when the biggest danger to the public is and will always be the agency itself, its workers and bureaucrats. I suspect the folks responsible for this tragedy will emerge with commendations, like those PG County SWAT thugs that shot that mayor's dogs. Metro: You watch the tracks and stop bothering the passengers. SHAME is correct. And THANK YOU for this awesome blog... Since the PostTimes are afraid to criticize their pals in power.

Anonymous said...

"This is the first accident of passenger loss of life in more than 27 years."... maybe, but haven't metro cops shot and killed a few people in that time?

Meg McCormick said...

Well said. It's not funny anymore. It's serious stuff.

Anonymous said...

When we ride the metro, we are willingly putting our lives in the hands of WMATA and it's employees. One of the main differences between a metro accident and a car accident is control. We lose that sense of personal control when riding public transportation that we somehow attribute to ourselves when driving. Therefore, although the rates of car incidents may be dramatically higher, we all have a little voice in our heads that says, "I'm a good driver, that won't happen to me."

Yesterday's accident however, scarily illustrates just how easy it is to have something happen to you that is completely and totally out of your personal control. I feel that Metro riders this morning were shook up, not because Metro has a history of accidents, but because it now appears that any one serious accident could happen at any point, without warning.

In times of crisis, we don't sit and think "What is more probable?" Our gut reactions come in, and we nervous.

Anonymous said...

I continually surprised at the hiring practices of WMATA. After a bus driver with a long criminal record attacked someone, Jim Grahm stated that they HAVE to hire ex-cons, since so many ex-cons live in the area. WTF?

Anonymous said...

amazing piece. wish the post had balls to call a spade a spade.

Aaron B. Pryor said...

Every time I write to Metro, I point out what I think is the main point of this blog posting. I have long thought that the little signs of bad service and maintenance that you commiserate with coworkers about are actually symptoms of larger, more institutional problems that directly and direly affect your well-being if you're a rider. Did yesterday's crash bear this out? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly doesn't make me feel any better when a driver pumps his breaks hard or misses his mark or when I get on a train or bus that's sweltering hot.

But the crash also drives at another matter: It is time for our elected officials to get serious about the issue of transportation. I didn't vote for Deeds, but I am glad there is at least one candidate who placed this issue as a such a priority in his primary campaign. Perhaps better dedicated funding wouldn't have made Metro feel that it had to squeeze a few more miles out of that train.

Danny said...

Yeah, maybe there have not been a lot of deaths on Metro. But I think they just got LUCKY! ...until now... This hasn't been the only accident in 27 years... Just the only one with fatalities!

When I heard about the "1000 series" cars, was thinking there were not that many. But @unsuckdcmetro is saying there are 290 still in the system! It's will only be a matter of time before this happens again unless WMATA implements the reccomendations of the NTSB.

Paul said...

The last accident where passengers died might be 27 years ago but I can remember at least four accidents in recent years where Metro workers were killed by a train. Metro workers are humans like passengers, so yes I would agree with the statement that Metro has beeing killing people quite a lot.

Paul said...

Also, to those who think Metro is safe because this is a once in a 27 years accident, may I ask whether you really think we can compare Metro to third world metro rail system? Heck even third world metro rail system are re safer than the Metro. Take for example China I recently visited. Their subway systems are light years better than Metro system, at a fare far lower (even considering lower wages). To take Beijing Metro as an example, yes it is a smaller system until recently, but there hasn't been a single accident since 1969 when it began to operate. This is how a metro rail system should work ... strive for 100% safety

My home city has a rail based transportation system called Schwebebahn (yes it's German) that has operated for 98 years!! without a single fatality. That was until 1999 when the first train after a construction weekend derailed and killed four person. Statistically, it would still be the safest transportation system in the world even after the accident. Nevertheless, it lost the image of a very safe transportation system among many people in the city. I don't think anyone will ever forget the incidence. It's 98 years accident free image is gone with just one accident.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with the comments of Melissa.

I understand the need to replace the 1000 series cars, but of course in the end it all comes down to money. I've read the plans for the new cars being looked at for the Silver line with their stainless steel outside for less car, matched quads for less wasted space, more room for passengers, and I think it is great they are doing that.. at the same time I'm sure they'd love to be able to go ahead and over those for the rest of the lines as well.

They could raise fares a bit, but I'm sure they have an economist that has done that math that tells them they would lose more money. Cut some service.. yeah right. There are several ways, but you throw in politics and it all goes to crap.

Eitherway, I think for the most part, Metro does its best with what money they have, and I'm sure in no way, did they ever want something else like this to happen.

Unsuck DC Metro said...

We're sure they didn't "want" this kind of tragedy to happen.

MIke Lastort said...

Metro bus drivers have run over and killed pedestrians.

The system is broken. WMATA is a mess. A deadly dangerous mess.

Anonymous said...

unsuck .... YOU SUCK!! i can't believe any human being with one little ounce of respect for those people who died or who were injured in this horrific ACCIDENT would claim that 'metro kills its passengers'. WTF??? it takes a piece of slime (USUCK!) to write something like that during this time. maybe, just maybe, you'd step back and take a look at the fact that METRO DOESN'T HAVE MONEY BECAUSE THE CHEAP ASS RIDERS WON'T PAY AN INCREASE OF 25 CENTS PER RIDE. but, they sure will pay 25 cents for their freaking starbucks skinny latte. or, congress can't get their head out of their ass long enough to manage to get the funding to metro. ...... you make me sick. you and all the other people who can't realize Metro is doing whatever they can with whatever funding they can manage to get. Catoe DOES deserve his manager of the year. you owe Mr. Catoe and all the Metro employees an apology for your insensitivity by claiming they 'kill their passengers.' go to hell. oh, and maybe if you were really the 'self-rightous'fuck you think you are, maybe you'd spend some of your precious non-employed time doing some good by petitioning congress or trying to get some funding for Metro. use your time wisely, UNSUCK. do something good for your country ... don't waste space on the internet with this shit. get Metro some funding and maybe you, too, MR. UNSUCK, can 'kill passengers' some day. again, go to hell you prick.

Lalaroo said...

Booooo, anonymous at 9:04! What are you, a ten-year-old? So angry. And maybe if Mr. Catoe was the best transit manager in the nation he'd be able to sucessfully lobby the funding he needed to run a safe transit system. It shouldn't be up to regular citizens to do the jobs that Metro management is getting paid to for.

Anonymous said...

im going to have to agree with 9:04 and the earlier comments. unsuck has crossed a VERY VERY dangerous line here. really rather repugnant to say that the transit system is killing its passengers. im sure that ford also kills several thousand people a year when their cars crash, and the peanut industry kills by making food that can cause severe or deadly reactions, or any one of another million things. killing has a connotation of premeditation and willing intent. seriously unsuck, metro kills? this went way over the top, and i think the readers, let alone the victims themselves, deserve a heartfelt apology. really, you should be BEGGING for forgiveness at this point. absolutely despicable what you all did here.

Anonymous said...

i also find it ironic that the writers at unsuck titled this post "shameful" --- the only ones who should be shameful are the writers of this post. absolutely disgusting.

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between getting in a car and getting on a Metro train, as noted in an earlier comment. When you drive a car, surrounded by hundreds of other cars with individual operators and a million different possible decision points, you understand the risk you're taking, AND you have some control. When you fly on a plane, you feel the risk even more - you're in a metal box defying gravity 35,000 feet in the air. But when you take a train that is attached to a rail, is partially automated and basically moves in one direction, there really is no reason to suspect you will be killed in a crash.

This blog has catalogued a shocking culture of neglect at WMATA, a system that operates with little accountability or integrity. And yes, the system is at cause in the outcomes it creates. Has the "system" inconvenienced passengers? Absolutely. Has it injured passengers? Clearly. And now, it has killed passengers. It's a simple statement of fact.

There is no excuse for shoddy operations when people's lives are at stake. Shameful.

Chrys B. said...

Powerful post. Hopefully, the $3B in proposed federal funding with come with some SERIOUS oversigh and accountability. I don't think we can rely on WMATA to start policing and reprimanding themselves, now can we? Personally, I say fire all the management, bring in a serious brass-ball hatchet management staff, cut the dead weight (and there's a LOT of it) and then start offering those jobs up to people who actually give a damn.

Chrys B. said...

AND how DARE any of you say that THIS POST ... !!!! is what is "Shameful" .... Did you not see the news? The people dead? The blame lies somewhere, and if you can't see where it obviously points to, then you're in denial.

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