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New Metro safety system could improve ride

Thursday - 9/13/2012, 3:42pm  ET

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Metro's supposed fail-safe train detection system failed in June 2009. As a result, nine people on the Red Line, including a train operator, died.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles told his board of directors Thursday that the transit agency has taken a significant step toward restoring confidence, and complete safety on the rails.

A first of its kind train detection system, literally built from the ground up, is now being tested throughout the system. The National Transportation Safety Board, which told Metro to build this kind of detection system, is approving.

"It really watches the system to see that a train that is moving along, suddenly doesn't disappear," Sarles said.

Of course, that's exactly what happened on June 22, 2009, when a Red Line train between Takoma and Fort Totten was told by the the train control system that the track ahead was clear. When the train rounded a turn, another train on the same track was right in its path.

Sarles could not give a timetable for when this new train detection system will be put in place full time.

"We're going through and looking at analysis, and that will tell us how much closer we are," he said.

Once the system is put in place, it should mark an improvement for riders because trains will be able to switch back to an automatic control mode.

Since the crash in 2009, train operators have been controlling trains in a manual mode. That has led to some herky-jerky trips as operators try to guide trains through the system.

A return to automatic mode would likely mean a smoother ride, and also could improve on-time performance.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)