Good morning everyone. First, some updates in the overnight:
The death toll rose to nine overnight, including the operator of the striking train. We’re expecting a press conference at 8am this morning, which I’ll cover live in this story. As you might imagine, with the system on full manual control today, the signaling system is suspected in the tragedy, and operator error may have added to the mix, as well.
There’s some additional transit news this morning. Due to a malfunctioning train at Eastern Market, the Orange & Blue lines are also operating at a significantly reduced capacity. Shuttle Buses are operating in the Red Line gap, so please be patient.
If you’d like to watch with us, NBC Washington is providing live video of the press conference via their website. Read on for the press conference information
Update 1 [8:02am] Mayor Fenty: Beginning with condolences and recap. 70+ transported to the hospital. The patients in critical condition are still in danger and still in treatment. He mentioned that the death toll was still at 7, which is odd, as I’ve seen 9 pretty much everywhere. Next of kin notification will begin shortly, which will lead to the identification of the others. There will be more notice around 5pm this evening.
Ward 4 & 5 council members are there, Chief Lanier, Chief Rubin, NTSB Examiner Kirschman, Metro Chairman Jim Graham and others.
Chief Rubin: We got a crane around 5:30am. We’re still working on clearing all the train, we’re hoping to declare “All Clear” this afternoon. We’ve run a full investigation of the surrounding areas. We’ll be powering back up this afternoon.
Chief Lanier: The police are working with the Medical Examiner’s office, we are still working to identifying the dead. One lane of NH Ave is open now, but we will be closing at 9am again to continue operations. We will attempt to open one lane northbound for evening rush.
GM Catoe: Our condolences to the victims and families. The Fire Department is still treating this as rescue and recovery. The NTSB is actively involved in the situation. We are operating in manual mode. Manual control of all cars in the entire system. All trains are pulling up to the 8-car mark in the system, until we determine the cause of the accident. We will find out what happened here and what caused this. We will fix this so it won’t happen again.
NTSB Kirshman: Our condolence to the victims and families. We worked through the night along the emergency responders. We are documenting the accident scene to have a good sense of what happened. We did have an opportunity to have a look at the trains. The struck train was 5000 and 3000 cars. There will be 9 data recorders on the struck train. The striking train does not have the same level of recording. We are not expecting to get data from the striking train. Our operations team will be looking at the train operators and their records and the control center operators, as well as the automatic operators. We’re gathering a lot of documents today. Our signals team will be looking at the signals system of the Metro to make sure there weren’t any faults. Once recovery operations are done, we’ll be testing the tracks. Our mechanical team will be examining the trains, to see if brakes were applied at all. Our track team is going to be looking at the tracks in the area. Our survival factors team will be interviewing victims, and examining the crash-worthiness of the Metro cars. We’re getting support from the FBI Evidence Team.
Concerns about crashworthiness of the rail cars? There was a telescoping of the striking train. much of the survivable space of the struck train and striking train in the cars that overtopped each other was compressed. We’ve made recommendations to WMATA in the past.
GM Catoe: “We will review” the crashworthiness of the cars.
Segraves: “Are the cars today crashyworthy?”
Kirshman:We don’t know at this point if the train operator had time to react and stop the train in time.
Segraves: What can the 1000 cars document?
Kirshman: We’re not expecting to get anything off those cars. We’ve made recommendations about this in the past. The NTSB is on record after the 2004 crash about the the crashworthiness of the 1000 series for safety incidents, and Metro has not been able to retrofit these cars, or phase them out of the fleet.
Mayor Fenty is wrapping this up, with a next conference at 5pm with final numbers of casualties.
Update 2 [8:31am] Here’s the pertinent part of the NTSB’s 2006 Report related to crashworthiness of the 1000-series cars (PDF):
The last car of train 703 sustained damage that was vastly disproportionate to that sustained by the lead car of train 105. The carbody structure of car 1077 inboard of the collision posts failed, which demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the crashworthiness structural design of the 1000-series carbody. Even though the anti-climber showed indications of engagement,75 the last railcar of train 703 telescoped and overrode the leading end of the first railcar of train 105, sustaining a catastrophic loss of approximately 34 feet of survival space in the passenger compartment. However, the collision post elements of the lead car of train 105 remained intact, and the operator’s cab was not compromised.
The Safety Board concludes that the failure of the carbody (underframe) end structure of the 1000-series Metrorail cars may make them susceptible to telescoping and potentially subject to a catastrophic compromise of the occupant survival space. WMATA’s evaluation, which determined that it was impractical to modify the 1000-series cars and their crashworthiness performance in collisions, in effect validates the scheduled retirement of the cars.77 Any replacement car should be designed with crashworthiness components for absorbing maximum energy in a collision and to transmit minimum acceleration to passengers without override or telescoping, as found in the current 5000-series railcars and specified for the 6000-series cars.
Because the 1000-series, Rohr-built, passenger railcars, which will comprise 26 percent of the Metrorail passenger railcar fleet when all the cars are delivered, are vulnerable to catastrophic telescoping damage and complete loss of occupant survival space in a longitudinal end-structure collision (as occurred at the Woodley Park station), the Safety Board believes that WMATA should either accelerate retirement of Rohr-built railcars, or if those railcars are not retired but instead rehabilitated, then the Rohr-built passenger railcars should incorporate a retrofit of crashworthiness collision protection that is comparable to the 6000-series railcars.
Lastly, Finding 11 from the 2006 report reads: “11. The failure of the carbody (underframe) end structure of the 1000-series Metrorail cars may make them susceptible to telescoping and potentially subject to a catastrophic compromise of the occupant survival space. ”
Update 3 [10:22 a.m.]: The death toll has gone up and down all morning long, but WaPo is now confirming that there are indeed 9 dead. Five more bodies were removed this morning when the trains were separated by a heavy crane. At this time, there has been an extensive search in and around the wreckage and vicinity, but a final account won’t be given until the mayor’s press conference today at 5 p.m.
Update 4 [12:30pm] Metro has provided some information about the Metro fleet. There are 290 Series 1000 cars in the system right now, which represent 25% of the 1,126-car fleet. That’s 290 cars that will need retrofitting to improve their crashability and add data recorders. It’s not clear the extent of reinforcements that you’d need to add to a car to make it safe in this kind of crash, but something will have to be done, or we’re looking at full replacements of 290 cars.