NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


January 6, 1997

Washington, D.C. - Metrorail's decision to alter bad weather operational guidelines and ineffective management oversight were cited as probable causes in the fatal collision between an active Metro train and a stationary car that resulted in the death of the train operator, the National Transportation Safety Board said today.

At a public meeting today the Board determined the probable cause of the Metorail's January 6, 1996 accident was the failure of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) management to fully address the design features of the automatic train control system before establishing automatic train operation as the standard in all weather conditions. Further, the Board cited WMATA's failure to permit its Operation Control Center controller and supervisors the ability to use their judgment in making safety decions.

On January 6, 1996, at approximate 10:40 p.m., a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail subway train, operating on the "Red Line" segment of the Metrorail system, failed to stop as it entered the above-ground Shady Grove passenger station near Gaithersburg, Maryland, the Red Line's terminus. The four-car train, operating in heavy snowfall, passed the station platform and continued 470 feet until it struck a standing, unoccupied subway train that was awaiting assignment. The train operator was fatally injured and the two passengers were uninjured.

Safety issues discussed included Metrorail's decision to eliminate manual train operation in poor weather conditions and instead rely on an automatic braking system. WMATA's management appeared to be overly reliant on the automatic train control system and failed to understand its design limitations. Further, management failed to delegate the sufficient authority to its line controllers and relied to heavily on oral instructions to convey operations and safety information to managers and employees. Additionally, the Board discussed the failure of Metrorail's braking system to meet the minimum braking requirements as established by Metrorail operation guidelines.

The NTSB's complete report, PB96-916304, may be purchased from the National Technical Information Services, 5285 Port Royal, Springfield, VA 22161, (703) 487-4650

Media Contact: NTSB Office of Public Affairs
(202) 314-6100



The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.