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The lead car of the Metro train that rammed into the rear of the one that was stopped up ahead was one of the so-called series 1000 cars, the earliest purchased for the then brand new system 30 years ago. The problem was, as the public has just now learned as a result of last month’s horrendous crash on the Red Line near the Fort Totem station, these nearly 300 cars were, according to a report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to Metro three years ago, insufficiently designed to withstand head-on collisions. Despite the strong urging of the NTSB at the time to retrofit those cars, Metro ignored the problem.

Then, on June 22nd NTSC’s fears were realized with the death of the heroic train operator who did everything by the book to try to stop the speeding train, but also the death of eight passengers.

Probably anticipating that the public might — legitimately, we might add — consider what happened to the people in the destroyed 1000 series train car to give rise to a charge of criminal negligence by Metro and its decision-makers, General Manager Cato was quoted in the June 30th edition of the Washington Post that Metro “[has} no evidence that these 1000 series cars contributed to the cause of the accident.”

But his statement begs the question. True, the 1000 series car that the maimed and crushed passengers were riding in was not itself the cause of the accident — the preliminary investigation has suggested the cause was a faulty electronic device. Not admitted by the General Manager, however, was that the cause of the deaths was indeed largely due to the happenstance that these people had the misfortune to be riding in a 1000 series car already known by management to be unsafe in a collision situation.

And what about the apparently temperamental electronic signalizing device, one of some 3,000 embedded along the tracks throughout the system? Not only had it failed to work properly five days before the crash and was replaced, but it continued to indicate unreliability which was apparently known to some employees but not brought to the attention of the person or persons responsible for initiating immediate corrective action.

Furthermore, notwithstanding the statements by management that this failure was simply an anomaly, the reality was that it was a known fact for several years that these devices — which capture information about trains slowed or stopped ahead and then transmit automatic slowing or stopping commands to an oncoming train — were often unreliable and subject to what is known as “fluttering,” meaning that they can just fail for a time and then come back to life.

In fact, when the operators of San Francisco’s BART system — generally known as Metro’s “sister” system because of the very similar technology and equipment used by both — several years ago installed redundant back-up signals so as to avoid exactly what occurred here, their decision and information about the problem was well known in rapid transit circles. Did anyone at Metro pay attention? Apparently not.

Well, at least Metro’s management has finally taken steps to place these unsafe series 1000 cars in the center of the trains so that they will not be the first cars rammed into should there be another speeding train unable to stop.

But what about dangerous conduct by train operators? Was the recent inattention to the tracks ahead of his speeding train out on the Blue Line between King and Van Dorn Streets also simply an anomaly or is this sort of criminal negligence more common than known? That guy had his head practically buried in his lap while concentrating on his orgy of texting! Had he not even considered what could happen in light of the commuter train derailment in Southern California not so long ago; didn’t he even think he could have ended up dead like the jerk driving the California train?

The truly scary part of all this is not just that this Metro operator violated the clear rule about not using cell phones and other devices while on duty (he obviously wasn’t as conscientious as the very attentive operator of the Red Line train who had her cell phone properly stashed away in her backpack) but he wasn’t even looking out ahead; he would never been able to react in time to apply the emergency brakes as did the ill-fated Red Line operator whose action did sufficiently slow her train resulting in very possibly saving many more passengers from death and injury.

If it hadn’t been for a passenger who observed what was going on and whipped out his cell phone to record a short video showing that craziness — and we thank that person for posting on U Tube, otherwise nobody would have believed it. But how did management actually respond? With a slap on the wrist, a five-day suspension and the comment that the guy “learned his lesson”! Outrageous. He should have been fired on the spot. At least we can give a sigh of relief now that Metro announced its new, “zero tolerance” policy which makes clear that and train and bus operators will be out the door in a New York minute.

But why did they wait so long to do this? After the California train crash caused by an operator who was texting and not paying attention the U.S. Department of Transportation issued rules clearly prohibiting such inattention. Why didn’t Metro take the cue and issue its belated new policy? Management needs to do a better job training and supervising its personnel and the Metro board needs to do better job of management oversight.