Metro is making final preparations to change the way it runs its trains.
News4 has learned that a presentation to switch trains back to a computer-controlled automatic mode is on the agenda for this week’s Metro board meeting.
The Red Line is planned to switch to automated driving by the summer and the entire system by the end of the year.
Metro has not used automatic train operation (ATO) for over a decade. Currently, train drivers themselves control the traffic.
However, Metro is designed to operate in automatic mode – and is currently one of the few major transit systems that is not automated.
Metro says ATO needs to improve everything from on-time performance to train wear and even energy consumption as it will ensure a much smoother ride.
“It’s like hitting the gas in your car, it’s not the best way to accelerate, nor is it the best way to brake, is it? It’s a similar logic if you use a vending machine,” said WMATA Chief Infrastructure Officer Andy Off.
The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission says its members are awaiting additional information requested from Metrorail and intensive work is needed to ensure the transit agency is ready to roll out ATO.
“As part of our oversight of Metrorail’s safety certification work related to automatic train operation and automatic door operation, the WMSC regularly communicates with Metrorail on specific safety issues. This includes questions related to areas such as Metrorail’s potential timelines, testing, development and implementation of training, protection of road workers, technological adjustments and other intensive work required for Metrorail to ensure that not only the physical systems, but also the Metrorail organization as a whole are ready to operate safely using automatic train operation or automatic door operation ,” the commission said in a statement.
Metro has not run in ATO mode since a Red Line train crashed in 2009, killing nine people. It remains the deadliest incident in Metro history.
In that case, a perfect storm of events contributed to the crash, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation. At first computer signals indicated that the track ahead was clear, but a second train stopped not far around a bend. Then the automatic system allowed the train to move forward at full speed. By the time the engineer saw the second train, it was too late.
Metro understands that it has to convince everyone that this new system is safe.
“We have verified with our manufacturers that this equipment is safe under these conditions,” said WMATA employee Tiffani Jenkins.
The Metro Board will hear the full plan on Thursday.
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