August 25, 2010
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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has faced heated criticism following the fatal Red Line crash on June 22, 2009 and continues to do so. The accident near the Fort Totten station killed nine individuals and injured many others sparked a firestorm or criticism against the metro system. After meeting with the National Transportation Safety Board in July of this year, Metrorail announced on its website that it would implement all of the 16 safety recommendations made by the NTSB in response to the 2009 accident.
Perhaps this could not have come at a better time, in light of the massive brawl that took place on Friday, August 6 after a fight – reportedly involving over 70 people – began at Gallery Place station around 11 PM. The collective mayhem continued on the train and traveled to the L’Enfant Plaza station. Eighteen-year-old Angelo Nicholas was charged with disorderly conduct. Two 16 year old District teenagers were also charged: one with disorderly conduct and the other with simple assault. Four individuals were hospitalized for injuries, and an estimated 70 teenagers were involved. Yet, this appears to have been an isolated incident. Metrorail has instituted a policy that gives regular patrol officers the right to take action against individuals behaving suspiciously. This policy and several other implemented safety measures by Metrorail have drastically decreased the percentage of incidents and seem to be working.
After a review of the recent, massive incident, Deputy Chief Dave Webb announced that additional officers will be stationed at Gallery Place, as well as other stations where several Metro lines are accessed. Webb indicated that the disturbing occurrence is not typical of incidents on the Metro. He also stated that the fight does not suggest a common behavior from youths who generally ride the Metro. Whether or not the additional officers will have a permanent presence has not been determined as of yet.
“Metro has improved a whole lot. We pay attention to what people say when there’s a suspicious package, and check it out right away,” one station manager stated, under the condition of anonymity. “We don’t send a train out if they’re not working properly. We have regular patrols. Kids come year round; there’s a school, an institution right across the street, but we’ve never had a problem,” she acknowledged.
Another pedestrian and Metro rider, Courtney Walters, described his overall experience with Metro as good, though he has not seen many changes in the way it operates. He asserted that although the incident at Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza was colossal, it was highly uncommon. However, he suggested that it would be more likely in DC rather than Virginia.
Metrorail has dedicated $30 million for safety improvements to be carried out in the next three years. Improvements include repairing and developing train facilities, which will address widespread problems such as broken escalators and elevators, slow or unpredictable service, dirty cars, and insufficient air conditioning systems that provide inadequate cooling from the District’s summer heat. The transit system will also focus on equipment replacement. The NTSB found that a major contributing factor to the Red Line crash were circuit module malfunctions, stating that nearly half of the 3,000 in place were faulty. Responding to NTSB recommendations, Metrorail has replaced Alstom modules at 34 locations and is currently working to replace more at 8 other locations. Plans to replace modules at a remaining 61 locations are underway. In November, track circuit module inspections will be increasing from once to twice a year. Moreover, Metrorail is working with an independent firm in preventative measures to access the automatic train control system for any potential failures.
The NTSB also recommended the replacement of about a quarter of Metrorail’s cars – the Series 1000 is the oldest in the fleet — dating back to 1976 — and will be replaced by the Series 7000. After signing an $886 million contract with Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc. in May, 428 new generation Metrorail cars are in the process of being manufactured. The Series 7000 will not only be equipped with new Crash Energy Management systems, but are spacious enough to allow 40 more passengers per 8 car trains, easing overcrowding, a growing concern.
Kayla Lyles, a frequent Metro rider, who transfers at Metro Center, admitted that she had concerns: “It’s been really crowded. I’ve taken the metro every day and I feel safe, but you never know.” The new rail cars will begin arriving as early as 2013; all cars are expected to be in service by 2016.
Coinciding with NTSB recommendations are fare increases, which many riders have opposed vehemently. In order to cover a $189 million budget gap, Metrorail officials announced its largest fare increase ever this past June, but asserted that rather then charging riders for reduced services, they eliminated all proposed service cuts. Depending on the distance, fares increased from 25 to 45 cents. This past August, the second phase of Metrorail fare adjustments took effect. These adjustments included a 20 cent surcharge during rush hour periods, an increase in the cost of three Metrorail passes, and a 25 cent discount per trip for customers who use a SmarTrip® card instead of a paper fare card. The fare adjustments apply to all lines and services, including bus and MetroAccess, a service for elderly and disabled riders.
Despite Metrorail’s ongoing issues, it is fervently making moves toward improvements by not only committing to meeting all of the NTSB recommendations, but also continuing to build upon and securing better services. In the past month, red platform warning lights at 14 of its stations were installed, and Metro upgraded its tracks on the Orange, Yellow and Green lines. The company also updated the station’s neighborhood maps.
Denise Lauretti, who accompanied her husband and son on the Metro train during the weekend, stated: “Our experience has been great today – actually all week. We’ve been riding during the daytime, so security is not really a concern for us.”
Catheryn Baker, visiting the Washington, DC area from Carlise, England, commented on the convenience of taking the metro during her experience in the city. She confided that despite the recent news, “we’ve felt safe, and actually people were being helpful and friendly.”
Metro General Manager, Richard Sarles, released a statement on August 9th, reaffirming Metro’s commitment to safety. He asserted that although many difficulties lie ahead, “Metro’s staff is ready to meet these challenges in cooperation with the FTA, the NTSB, the Tri-State Oversight Committee and our other safety partners and under the leadership of the Metro Board.” Metro riders will have to determine whether the measure of security they experience and the effectiveness of these new measures are in accordance with the promises of the officials within the company.