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Warning issued over Washington metro train control systems

The National Transportation Safety Board today issued an urgent safety recommendation to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) calling for enhanced safety redundancy of its train control system, following a train collision in June which killed nine

Nine people were killed and more than seventy injured on 22 June when two trains on the Washington metro collided during rush hour.

The accident, in which a moving train ploughed into the back of a stationary train waiting near a station during rush hour has shown that WMATA’s train control system is susceptible to a single point failure because it did not fail safe and stop a train when detection of a preceding train was lost.

The urgent safety recommendation issued today calls for WMATA to evaluate track occupancy data on a real-time basis in order to detect losses in track occupancy and automatically generate alerts to prompt such actions as immediately stopping train movements or implementing appropriate speed restrictions to prevent collisions.

The Safety Board made a second urgent recommendation to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) urging the agency to advise all rail transit operators with train control systems capable of monitoring train movements to evaluate their systems for adequate safety redundancy.

Although the NTSB’s investigation is not yet complete and no determination of probable cause has been reached, investigators have concerns regarding the safety redundancy of WMATA’s train control system.

“While the NTSB is still in the very early stages of its investigation into this tragic accident here in our nation’s capital, we have concerns about the failure of WMATA’s train control system to prevent this collision,” said Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker.

“By calling upon WMATA to take swift action to upgrade the safety redundancy of its system and by urging FTA to alert other transit agencies of the hazards of single point failures such as the one experienced by WMATA, we hope to prevent something similar from happening again.”

In accordance with NTSB protocol, the letters were issued to the heads of both agencies with a request for a response from each organization within 30 days, addressing the actions taken or planned in response to the Board’s recommendation.

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