Collision of Two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Trains
Near Fort Totten Station, Washington, DC
June 22, 2009

Public Hearing
February 23-25, 2010



Opening Statement By
Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt, III
Chairman, Board of Inquiry

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome.

My name is Robert Sumwalt and I am a Board Member of the National Transportation Safety Board.  I am honored to serve as chairman of the Board of Inquiry for this public hearing.

Today we are opening a public hearing concerning the June 22, 2009 accident involving the collision of two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains on the Red Line near Fort Totten Station.

The hearing is being held for the purpose of supplementing the facts, conditions, and circumstances surrounding this accident. This process will assist the Safety Board in determining the probable cause of the accident and in making any recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.  No determination of cause will be rendered during these proceedings.

I would like to acknowledge the family members of those who lost their lives and those who survived this accident, who are present in our audience today and who are watching via webcast. On behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board and all those assembled here today for this important hearing, I offer our sincere condolences for your loss and for the difficulties you and your families have endured since the accident. As we continue our work to improve safety in our nation's transit rail systems, we should keep this tragedy in mind and move forward with a collective commitment to improve safety with the goal of preventing this type of accident from ever happening again.

That is why we are here.  When a transportation accident occurs, it is the responsibility of the NTSB to find out what happened, determine why it happened, and then make safety recommendations to prevent a similar accident from happening in the future.

A public hearing is one tool the NTSB may use to help complete an investigation.

The purpose of this hearing is two-fold.  First, the issues that will be discussed at this hearing serve to assist the Safety Board in developing additional factual information that will be analyzed for the purpose of determining the probable cause of the accident.  Secondly, this hearing also provides the opportunity not only to the transportation community, but also to the traveling public, to see a portion of the investigative process.

Neither I nor any other NTSB personnel will attempt during this hearing to analyze the testimony received, nor will any attempt be made at this time to determine the probable cause of the accident.  Such analyses and cause determinations will be made by the full Board after consideration of all of the evidence gathered during our investigation.  The final report on the accident, reflecting the Safety Board's analyses and probable cause determinations, will be considered for adoption by the full Board at a public meeting here at the NTSB’s Board Room at a later date.

These proceedings tend to become highly technical affairs, but they are an essential part of the process in completing an investigation and in seeking to reassure the public that everything is being done to ensure the safety of the Nation’s transit rail system.

The purpose of this inquiry is not to determine the rights or liability of private parties, and matters dealing with such rights or liability will be excluded from these proceedings.  I want to emphasize that this hearing is non-adversarial – it is a fact-finding examination. 

During this hearing we will collect information that will assist the Safety Board in its examination of safety issues arising from this accident.  Specifically, we will concentrate on the following issues:

  1. WMATA’s oversight of safety
  2. WMATA’s operational actions to address safety issues
  3. The Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) overview of WMATA
  4. State safety oversight of rail transit systems
  5. Federal safety oversight of rail passenger systems
  6. High Reliability Organizations (HROs)

At this point, I would like to introduce the other members of the Board of Inquiry:

Members of the technical panel are as follows:

Ms. Bridget Serchak from the Safety Board's Office of Public Affairs is here to assist in matters dealing with the news media.

Mr. Elias Kontanis from the NTSB’s Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance will be assisting WMATA accident passengers and family members during the hearing.

Ms. Nancy Mason and Ms. Denise Whitfield will provide administrative support, as needed.

Federal regulations provide for the designation of parties to an NTSB public hearing.  In accordance with these regulations, those persons, governmental agencies, companies, and associations whose participation in the hearing is deemed necessary and in the public interest are designated as parties.  The parties assisting the Safety Board in this hearing have been designated in accordance with these regulations, and they have been selected for their technical expertise in their respective fields.

I will now call the names of the parties to the hearing. As I call the name of each party, I will ask the designated party spokesperson to please give his or her name, title, and affiliation for the record:

I want to thank publicly all of the private and governmental agencies that have supported the Safety Board throughout the investigation. 

On February 17, 2010, the Board of Inquiry held a prehearing conference in this Board Room.  It was attended by the hearing’s Board of Inquiry, Technical Panel and representatives of the parties to this hearing.  During that conference, the areas of inquiry and the scope of the issues to be explored at this hearing were delineated.
           
As we begin this morning, the Investigator-in-Charge of the accident investigation will summarize certain facts about the accident and the investigative activities that have taken place to date.  Following this, the first witness will be called.

The witnesses have been selected because of their ability to provide the best available information on the issues of transit rail safety pertinent to this accident investigation. 
           
Each witness will testify under oath and will serve on panels devoted to specific topic areas. The Technical Panel will question the witnesses first, followed by each party spokesperson.  The Board of Inquiry will be the last to question the witnesses.

As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will be responsible for the conduct of the hearing. I will make all rulings on the admissibility of exhibits and pertinence of proffered testimony, with the assistance of NTSB General Counsel, Mr. Gary Halbert, seated behind me. All such rulings will be final.

The record of the investigation, including the transcript of the hearing, all exhibits entered into the record, and the presentations, will become part of the Safety Board's public docket and will be available on the Board’s website: www.ntsb.gov. 

Witnesses who have completed their testimony should realize that they may be subject to recall should the need arise. Therefore, witnesses should not leave unless they have checked with the Hearing Officer, Mr. Dobranetski.

In closing, I ask that everyone please silence cell phones and other electronic devices you may have with you.  Please also make a mental note of the exits from this room in the event they are needed in an emergency.   

Mr. Dobranetski, are you ready to summarize the investigation and enter the exhibits into the public docket?  Please proceed. 

[Dobranetski Investigation Summary]

Thank you. Now, Mr. Dobranetski, would you please call the witnesses on the first panel?