The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that last year's fatal collision of two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains on the Red Line in Washington, D.C., was a failure of the track circuit modules that caused the automatic train control (ATC) system to lose detection of one train, allowing a second train to strike it from the rear. The NTSB also cited WMATA for its failure to ensure that a verification test developed after a 2005 incident near Rosslyn station was used system wide. This test would have identified the faulty track circuit before the accident.
Contributing to the accident was the lack of a safety culture within WMATA; ineffective safety oversight by the WMATA Board of Directors and the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC); and the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) lack of statutory authority to provide federal safety oversight. Additionally, WMATA's failure to replace or retrofit the 1000-series rail cars, after these cars were shown in previous accidents to exhibit poor crashworthiness, contributed to the severity of passenger injuries and the number of fatalities.
On June 22, 2009, at approximately 5 p.m., train 112 struck the rear of stopped train 214 near the Fort Totten station in Washington, D.C. The lead car of train 112 struck the rear car of train 214, causing the rear car of train 214 to telescope about 63 feet into the lead car of train 112. Nine people aboard train 112 were killed as a result of the accident, including the train operator, and dozens were injured.
"The layers of safety deficiencies uncovered during the course of this investigation are troubling and reveal a systemic breakdown of safety management at all levels," said Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "Our hope is that the lessons learned from this accident will be not only a catalyst for change at WMATA, but also the cornerstone of a greater effort to establish a federal role in oversight and safety standards for rail transit systems across the nation."
As a result of this investigation, the NTSB made recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FTA, TOC, WMATA, Alstom Signaling and transit authorities in six states using GRS Generation 2 modules. Issue areas included safety oversight, equipment inspection and maintenance guidelines and procedures, and targeted equipment removal and replacement.
A synopsis of the NTSB report, including the probable cause, conclusions and safety recommendations, is available on the NTSB website.
The NTSB's full report will be available on the website in several weeks.