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No word from Metro on control changes

Sunday - 6/16/2013, 6:58am  ET

WASHINGTON - Nearly four years after a deadly Metro crash, the agency is still uncertain when it will switch back from manual to automatic train control.

The National Transportation Safety Board cited a failure of track circuit modules in the automatic train control unit as a cause of the 2009 crash on the Red Line, which killed nine people outside the Fort Totten station.

Since 2010, the agency has been conducting a thorough review, including a system safety analysis. Rob Troup, deputy general manager at WMATA, told board members on Thursday that the analysis should be complete in the coming months. After that, the agency will meet with the National Transportation Safety Board to discuss the next step.

"We are working with the NTSB on their schedule and the process will determine the timeline on that," says Troup. "The first step was to get the systems safety analysis. The systems safety analysis will have a certain amount of recommendations to it that hasn't been finalized by us or the NTSB."

Hatch-Mott MacDonald, which Metro contracted to assist them in the process, has found that many fixes still need to be made before automatic train control can resume.

Richard Sarles, WMATA's general manager, was peppered with questions about the lack of a timeline during a press gaggle.

"We are going through a very thorough analysis of the safety of this system. That has been going along well. We have seen nothing that says we have to replace the signal system," he says. "When we're satisfied we know everything that has to be done to complete that, then I will announce a schedule. Then I can tell you when we'll go back to automatic train control."

Sarles says if he were to give a target date, even for a year from now, he would be held to it. Until he gets more information, he says he is unprepared to do that.

Metro has spent $1.5 million on new test equipment for maintenance and engineering to fix the automatic train control system.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff also expressed concern about the automatic train control system on the Silver Line in a May 17 letter to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

"I have come to learn that General Railway Signal Company/Alstom has unilaterally made various design changes to the ATC without prior approval from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority or the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority," the letter says.

Last week, MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter wrote back to Rogoff, agreeing with concerns over the Silver Line's automatic train control.

"Please be assured we will not accept any Phase 1 product from Alstom, or any other Dulles Transit Partners subcontractor, that has not met all safety requirements," writes Potter. "In no way will safety be compromised."

As WTOP first reported, this and other weather delays led Dulles Rail's Sam Carnaggio to tell the Action Committee for Transit that the Silver Line will not open before the end of 2013.

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