Monday, November 2, 2009

Doors Closing

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?

Other items:
Metro employee accused of screwdriver stabbing not guilty (Examiner)
Paris' bike sharing program failing (NY Times)

Photo: sudama

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Anonymous said...

Many times, at busy stations like Dupont or Metro Center, the operator doesn leave enough time for people to get on the train because so many people offloaded. I think the operators never look out on the platform, they just close the door when they feel like it.

Anonymous said...

There was an incident this morning at L'Enfant where a lady was trying to rush through at the last minute (Blue line towards Franconia, roughly 7:45AM) and got her bag stuck in the door. Bystanders in the train and on the platform tried to help push the bag through to her while the train operator kept trying to slam the doors shut. This continued for about a minute with repeated announcements to "stand clear of the doors" before finally the operator opened the doors enough for the lady to finish pulling her bag through.

It might have been hard to see (it was at the back of the train), but you'd think they'd notice if the doors are stuck half-open for a minute and opening them an inch and immediately reclosing doesn't help.

Anonymous said...

How long until WMATA posts saying "we are looking into the matter" or something like that.

Kara said...

Oh, is that what happened? From the time, I think we were on the same train. I wondered if we would get the 'this train will be taken out of service...' lecture.

Anonymous said...

I was on that train too. You know, I just don't have any sympathy for people like that though. That is not the fault of metro - that is the fault of an individual who couldn't wait 2 minutes for the next train? Because if that was the same train I was on (and it had to be based on time etc) that's how many minutes it was to the next train. It's just really inconsiderate and rude of individuals to take the risk of disabling the doors and offloading the train, making all of late - simply so they because they cannot wait 2 minutes for the next train to come.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 12:17

The problem at the moment is the train may come in 2 min but by my expirience, the odds are I'll have to wait 5-10 and sometimes 15 min for the next train to come (Red and Yellow lines). If Metro managed to actually have trains arrive every 3 min or so (thus keeping a stream of trains every few min and no waits for a train to service the platform) there would be a significant decrease in this type of thing happening.

As it is for a yellow line train I have to rush into it for fear of waiting forever since it is typically over a 5 min wait in rush hour and the signs never show when the next train will arrive until right before.

Kara said...

@12:34 Yes, I would have had a 6+ minute wait this morning for a blue because I left early so took the yellow. Then when I transferred at L'Enfant it took 6 minutes until either blue or orange would be there (huh?! 2 lines take that route so it should be a train every 3 minutes). Metro operators always claim that another train is right behind them but I have yet to see it.

It is hard to predict when the doors will close too. I have had a door open then close on arrival at my stop in less than a second .... got my head caught in a door that way (half a second more and it would have been my throat).

Anonymous said...

sorry folks, I take that exact commute every day, arrive at the same time and the signs at l'enfant are almost always accurate. in that case, i looked at the sign to see how many minutes it was to the next train in case this one was packed. it was 2 minutes. So there was no excuse for this woman. And it's exactly because its hard to predict when the doors close that you shouldn't chance it. That's part of being a courteous rider. More than 2 minutes were certainly wasted trying to get the doors closed.

Anonymous said...

(Original poster)

I have no sympathy for the lady - she very clearly tried to get through the door well after the warning announcement was played and the doors did a "test closing". That was entirely her fault for getting stuck. However, my point was more that the train operator didn't bother to look and see WHY the door was stuck and how he could solve the problem instead of just repeatedly demanding "get out of the doors"

Anonymous said...

If the trains were running in Automatic, you wouldn't have the problem of the train moving before the doors are closed! I remember when the trains were in automatic, the operator had to keep his/her head out the window as the train pulled away to make sure everything was ok.

Anonymous said...

I will say though that the Red Line drivers who stop at Union Station in the direction of Glenmont/Silver Springs do a pretty good job of checking.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there an indicator on the operator's console (inside the cab) showing whether all the doors are closed? I don't know one way of the other, but I would be surprised if there wasn't such a display.

Anonymous said...

This afternoon I was injured by closing doors on the metro train that left the Rosslyn station in the direction of New Carolton at approximately 3:01 p.m. My shoulders were pressed by the doors until I was forced off of the train. The train arrived at the station and passengers exited. There were probably 15 people who exited. There was only one small woman in front of me getting on the train. She got on and I followed. I was no sooner in the threshold of the train and the doors closed on my shoulders with what felt like hundreds of pounds of force. A woman inside the train gasped at my being stuck in the doors. Looking down the line of the train I saw that others too were forced off by the closing doors. I am currently suffering from a stiff neck and pain across my back from shoulder to shoulder. The train left very quickly once the doors closed. The next train arrived about 2 minutes later. I got the impression that the train I attempted to board was running late. I waited at least 6 minutes before it arrived originally. What if I had been caught in those doors and dragged? I think that was the fear of the woman who gasped when I was caught between the doors. I know how to board a metro train expeditiously. I did not hear the warning that the doors were closing. Something happened on this train. I believe the driver was not paying attention otherwise he would have seen many people get cut off of that train. I did not report the incident to Merto personnel when I exited Foggy Bottom though I thought about it. My body is actually sore from this incident and I would expect that tomorrow it will be worse. Was the driver texting or on the phone? He/she certainly was not paying attention.

Anonymous said...

I was on a crowded Shady Grove bound red line train tonight. When the train stopped at Metro Center the doors were not open long enough to let people out including a woman with a stroller who got stuck in the closing doors. There was not any time for people on the platform to enter the train. This made the woman with the stroller and other young children scream curse words and make a huge scene. The combination of Metro's poor operations and the ridiculous behavior of their riders is often enough incentive for me to deal with traffic and find a place to park in the city.

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