WMATA to stay away from automated operations for now

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WMATA
WASHINGTON — The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will not return Metrorail trains to automated operation, for which the system was originally designed, at any time in the near future, the agency quietly decided April 6. WMATA officials cited the need to focus on a number of rebuilding projects and other safety priorities, in spite of having spent $106 million to replace more than 1,700 track circuits to enable automated train operation, according to local NPR affiliate WAMU.

The failure of the automatic system to detect the presence of a stopped train on the Red Line between Fort Totten and Takoma stations led to a deadly rear-end collision in June 2009. Since then, all trains have been operated manually, except for a limited reintroduction of automation on the Red Line starting in October 2014. Since then, however, the agency has seen a change in leadership and another high-profile fatal incident, when a stopped Yellow Line train filled with smoke in a tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza station in January 2015. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld implemented an intensive repair program called SafeTrack in mid-2016 and the Federal Transit Administration has ordered a number of safety and maintenance fixes based on federal investigations in the past two years.

“WMATA leadership determined it prudent to focus limited resources on more pressing safety matters, such as track and power cables and execution of SafeTrack,” the agency said in a statement in response to WAMU’s request to interview top officials, declining to grant any interviews. WMATA added that it would be unsafe to run automated trains at a time when so many contractors and inspectors are working on the tracks.

Manual operation results in a less comfortable ride for passengers, with trains starting and stopping more abruptly, as well as decreased reliability as trains are not as evenly spaced. Automatic operation would eliminate the risk of red signal overruns, of which there were 16 in 2016, and would also allow for the doors to be open more quickly after arrival at stations. The chair of the Metro Riders Advisory Council and transit/urbanism advocacy group Greater Washington both expressed disappointment with the indefinite postponement of automated operation’s return.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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