Washington’s Treacherous Trains

Can you tell someone at the WaPo isn’t thrilledwith WMATA’s decision to close three critical stations in Northern Virginia this weekend, including the one at Reagan National?  What does Metro think we are, Maryland?

Washington’s Metro ranks among the best in the world.  In the New York subway, bums routinely cordon off huge train segments to use as their makeshift hobo abodes (“hobodes”; you’ll repeat it).  In Caracas, Venezuela, unionized subway cleaners paid by the job nudge unsuspecting riders onto the tracks to create a gruesome mess on otherwise-clean, non-paying days.  DC’s high prices and strict control over food and bag policies keep the metro commuter-friendly and safer than almost any other system on earth.

I’ve written about the terrible risks WMATA takes.  Not only does Metro remain reluctant to replace worn-out cars until they’re objectively dangerous (read: smashed); we’re also looking at pervasive, patterned problems WMATA never fixed in the early 2000’s, which still plague our system as we speak.

Here’s the link to Sunday’s WaPo story about that 2005 near-miss, and here’s the gist of it.

The train’s crash avoidance system indicated that the track ahead was clear, but Mitchell sensed danger in the distance. He decided to override the system and brake manually — then watched helplessly as his train rolled to a stop just 35 feet short of a train ahead.

As a shaken Mitchell radioed Metro supervisors, he was interrupted by the operator of the train behind him, who announced that he had just caught sight of Mitchell’s train and hit his emergency brake. “You could hear the panic in his voice,” Mitchell said. That train ground to a halt 20 feet short of Mitchell’s.

Dear Metro: “Insurance” doesn’t mean you hoard tax-sheltered money so you can pay liabilities as they come due.  Doesn’t it make more sense to fix your brakes, protect your riders, and stop putting the highest concentration of lawyers in the country* — probably in the entire world — in danger!  I’d happily pay higher rates for a better probability of not getting smashed in a pile-up — which, given your recent track record, is pretty firmly on my mind.


*The relevant Google search term is “attorneys per capita.”  Yes.


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