Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are Metro's 1000 Series Cars Safe? Can Metro do anything about it?

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington

With the tragic crash Monday of two Metro trains, WMATA has come under fire for the crashworthiness of its oldest railcars, the 1000 Series. These cars began arriving on site in 1975, and have been carrying passengers since opening day, more than 33 years ago. Metro plans to have retired all 1000 Series cars by 2014.

In the last three decades, the 1000 Series cars have been involved in two collisions, one in 2004 at Woodley Park and one earlier this week near Fort Totten. In both of these crashes, telescoping occurred, severely compromising the passenger compartments. After the 2004 crash the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a number of recommendations. One of these recommendations was that WMATA take steps to retrofit or retire these railcars.

Unfortunately, WMATA has been unable to implement this recommendation. There are just under 300 cars in the 1000 Series, comprising approximately a quarter of Metro's rail fleet. With ridership reaching all-time highs and money as tight as ever, Metro has not been able to reduce its fleet size.

Earlier Collisions
In 1996 during a January snowstorm, a train running in the automatic mode was unable to stop at Shady Grove due to icy rails. Parked approximately 400 feet north of Shady Grove on the outbound track was a gap train. The outbound Red Line train was carrying only two passengers, both in the fourth (last) car. Because of the ice, the train blew through the station at about 36 mph, hitting the parked gap train a few seconds later. The collision of the train telescoped the front car by 21 feet and killed the operator. No passengers were on board the first car and no one at all was aboard the parked gap train.

An NTSB analysis of the factors leading up to and subsequent to the crash included an examination of the wreckage. The collision took place while the train was travelling between 22 and 29 mph. The forces involved in this collision caused a structural failure, which the NTSB report describes in detail:

When [the lead car of T-111] struck the gap train, the attachments and fasteners securing its end underframe assembly to the side sills failed, and the side sills moved outward. On [the lead car of the gap train], the end underframe assembly remained attached (at least partially) to the side sills, which allowed the structure of [the lead car of the gap train] to transmit inertial forces to the end underframe of [the leading car of T-111] that were greater than it received. As a result, the body and some detached sections of the underframe of [the lead car of T-111] continued forward after the initial impact. This forward motion, combined with the outward movement of the side sills, allowed the body shell of [the lead car of T-111] to telescope outside the body of [the gap train]. As the collision progressed, the end underframe of [the lead car of T-111] began to act as a steel bumper for [the gap train], buckling the floor of [the lead car on T-111] and causing the remaining components of the car's underframe to fail. (NTSB Report on Shady Grove Collision, Page 65)

Based on this description, photos from the crash in 1996 at Shady Grove and the crash Monday near Fort Totten, it sounds like a similar structural failure occurred. Despite the similarities and despite NTSB's warnings about the 1000 Series, however, all cars involved in the 1996 Shady Grove Collision were in the 3000 Series.

Another incident with similar consequences for Metro's rollingstock occurred in November 2004. In this collision, a non-revenue train (Train 703) proceeding northbound toward Shday Grove was stopped in the tunnel between Woodley Park and Cleveland Park awaiting the train at Cleveland Park to depart. It appears that the operator's inattentiveness allowed the train to roll backwards toward Woodley Park, where Train 105 was servicing the platform. The last car of Train 703, struck Train 105 at about 36 mph, and telescoped 20 feet over the lead car of Train 105.

The wreckage at Woodley Park bears a striking resemblance to both the Shady Grove and Fort Totten collisions. Due to the similarities, the NTSB report on the Woodley Park Incident makes many references to the Shady Grove Collision.

NTSB Recommendations
In their post-accident report for the Shady Grove Collision, the NTSB made several recommendations to WMATA and other agencies. One of the recommendations was that WMATA undertake a "comprehensive evaluation of the design and design specifications of all series of Metrorail cars with respect to resisting carbody telescoping and providing better passenger protection, and make the necessary modifications…" (emphasis mine).

The WMATA study concluded that it would be infeasible to retrofit the existing fleet. For the 1000 Series, it was considered impractical because they were (and are) due to be scrapped. The report also noted that modifications to the 2000, 3000, and 4000 Series would be cost prohibitive to undertake. In 2002, as a result of these findings, NTSB classified the above cited recommendation (R-96-37) as closed with an acceptable action. NTSB determined that WMATA's study met the "intent" of the recommendation.

Two years after WMATA's study and action were validated by NTSB, Train 703 crashed into and overran Train 105 at Woodley Park. This crash involved the oldest railcars in the WMATA fleet, the 1000 Series. The NTSB report on the Woodley Park Crash focused on the structural deficiency of the 1000 Series. The Board feared that the 1000 cars were susceptible to telescoping, which could lead to "a catastrophic compromise of occupant survival space."

The NTSB, with recommendation R-06-2, encouraged WMATA to "either accelerate retirement of Rohr-built [1000 Series] railcars, or if those railcars are not retired but instead rehabilitated, then the Rohr-built passenger railcars should incorporate a retrofit of crashworthiness collision protection that is comparable to the 6000-series railcars."

Criticism of Crashworthiness
It is clear that the "catastrophic" loss of survival space feared by the NTSB occurred Monday. This has led many in the media to criticize Metro for leaving the 1000 Series in service. And while these cars are clearly at the end of their life, Metro has little choice but to leave them in service, at least for the next 5 years.

Only with the addition of the 184 cars that make up the 6000 Series, was WMATA able to eliminate four-car trains and add several eight-car trains to ease overcrowding. An immediate retiring of the 1000 Series (without replacement) would take 290 cars out of service, meaning a return to four-car trains on some lines, and perhaps a reduction in train headways.

Anything more substantive, such as a program of retrofitting or replacement takes time and money. In fact, Metro is already on the path to such a program. Currently they have an RFP out on the 7000 Series, Metro's largest car order ever, 648 new cars and the rehabilitation of the 100 cars in the 4000 Series. Once the 7000 Series cars are delivered, Metro will retire the 1000 Series.

Railcars take time to build. Metro can't just walk down to the nearest railcar dealership and test drive one. They're all custom built and are manufactured on demand. As a result, factories have to start producing cars, and even the process of assembling them takes quite a bit of time.
Some have accused Metro of ignoring NTSB and by so doing, contributing to the deaths and injuries sustained on Monday. But the truth is there were really no acceptable alternatives for Metro. Even if Metro had ordered the new 7000 Series railcars the day of the Woodley Park Accident in November 2004, it is unlikely that any would have entered revenue service before the middle of 2009. And because of the time it takes to process new railcars, it would take two to three years for all cars to arrive in Washington.

And although the Woodley Park Crash happened in 2004, the NTSB report was not released until March 2006. According to Metro's report on the 7000 Series cars, due in in 2012, the development of specifications started in the third quarter of FY2007 (early calendar year 2007), less than 12 months after NTSB's report.

Metro has not drug its feet on this issue. It absolutely cannot afford to retire the 1000 Series before the arrival of at least 300 of the new 7000 Series cars because so doing would reduce service to unacceptably low levels. It could not have accelerated the acquisition of the 7000 Series due to financial woes, and is even now working its way through the more-than-five year process to get new cars.

Service versus Safety
Some have suggested that in the wake of Monday's crash, Metro should sideline (sidetrack?) its 1000 Series trains. This is not a realistic proposal, but public pressure could still force it to be considered.

Based on ridership, the spare ratio, and certain service standards, Metro can calculate how many railcars it needs to operate. According to WMATA's Fleet Management Plan (2006), Metro expected to need 1120 railcars to operate on a given day in FY2009, which ends next week. Right now, WMATA has 1128 railcars. However, in FY2010, which starts July 1, Metro will need an estimated 1144 railcars to operate satisfactory service. Since the actual number of available cars is lower, this means more crowded trains. Essentially, we already have fewer cars than we need, and we will continue to be until the 7000 Series cars start to arrive in 2012.

Removing the 1000 Series would take Metro's fleet size down to 838, meeting only 72.3% of the demand for railcars. Without the 1000 Series, four-car trains would reappear on the Blue and Yellow Lines, and eight-car trains might just disappear from the Red, Orange, and Green Lines.

But there are other concerns. Note that the 1996 NTSB report encouraged WMATA to look at all railcars. Also note that WMATA's study concluded that it couldn't retrofit the 2000, 3000, or 4000 Series to improve their crashworthiness.

Now, note that only two 1000 Series cars have ever telescoped. The first time was in 2004. In 1996, the Shady Grove Crash was between trains comprised of 3000 Series cars. Also note that the 2000 and 3000 Series cars were manufactured by the same company consecutively. Any fault that the 3000 Series has in structural design, the 2000 Series likely has as well. Does this mean that the 2000 and 3000 Series cars are as dangerous as the 1000 Series?

That is unclear from the NTSB reports. However, the similarities of the three crashes involving two different series of railcars is a bit unnerving.

If the 1000, 2000, and 3000 Series cars are unsafe, that would be a major problem for Metro, because together they make up over 56% of the fleet. We can't take all of them out of service, and the 7000 Series won't be able to replace all of them.

And since the 4000 Series have not yet been overhauled, they might not fare as well as we'd like. They're due for rehabilitation in FY2014, which might bring them up to satisfactory standards. But until that work can be undertaken, might Metro consider pulling those cars? The 4000 Series is made up of 100 cars, almost 10% of Metro's fleet.

One piece of vital information can be gleaned from NTSB's 2006 report (on the 2004 Woodley Park Crash): They only consider the 5000 and 6000 cars to be good enough.

Any replacement car should be designed with crashworthiness components for absorbing maximum energy in a collision and to transmit minimum acceleration to passengers without override or telescoping, as found in the current 5000- series railcars and specified for the 6000-series cars. (NTSB Report on the Woodley Park Collision, Page 49)

If we removed all of the cars likely to telescope in a collision, we'd only have the 374 cars making up the 5000 and 6000 Series. The last time Metro had that few cars, was in the early 1980s, when the Red Line stretched from Silver Spring to Van Ness, the Orange from Ballston to New Carrollton, and the Blue Line from National Airport to Addison Road.

Both the 1000 and 3000 Series have been involved in eerily similar telescoping incidents. NTSB has recommended that Metro reinforce the 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 Series. It is unclear if any of these vehicles is safer than the 1000 series car lost in Monday's crash. It is clear, that NTSB is not happy with their sturdiness.

Without even one of these series, Metro would have to cut back service. Without any of them, Metro would be virtually crippled. The 5000s and 6000s are not a large enough part of the fleet to operate a 106-mile system with 86 stations and more than 700,ooo daily riders.

Criticism toward Metro for continuing to use the 1000 Series is frequent these days, but it does not consider that there would have been no way to design, order, build, test, and put into service 300 new railcars between March 2006 (when the NTSB suggested it) and June 2009, when the first fatal crash involving a 1000 Series car occurred.

Metro is between a rock and a hard place on this one. So is the riding public. Unfortunately, there are no right or absolute answers, although you can be sure that the NTSB report following this accident will make recommendations as if there are. We should be prepared to hear them suggest we retire all but the 5000 and 6000 Series. If we hear that, we can be sure that the cars won't be retired. It could take close to a decade to replace that many cars in the fleet. Reduced service for that long on the Metro would cripple Washington.

We're all upset that this crash happened. The sturdiness of the lead car did not cause the crash, but it contributed to its severity. Metro should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure passenger safety, but the 1000 Series is here to stay – at least until 2014. In the meantime, riders should remember that Metro is still the safest way to travel in the Washington area.

See Also
Metrorail Fleet Management Plan (2006) [PDF]
NTSB Report on the Shady Grove Collision (1996) [PDF]
NTSB Report on the Woodley Park Collision (2006) [PDF]
7000 Series Railcar Overview (2008) [PDF]

Note: Commenting has been disabled. Please comment on this same post at Greater Greater Washington.


People came from around the city. A constant stream of them passed by, many pulling over and getting out to look. People with cameras, people with flowers, people with memories, and people with concerns. Perhaps they came to gawk, perhaps to remember, to pay respect. Perhaps they were just passing by and stopped to see what the commotion was about. But stop they did. Slowed by the constant ingress and egress of vehicles, with pedestrians darting across the four lanes, and news crews taking up the sidewalks, New Hampshire Avenue was moving slowly across the Langley Bridge.

Here, New Hampshire Avenue is high above the city. Higher even than the old B&O Railroad grade, now home to Metro, MARC, and CSX. The bridge is new, recently replaced by DDOT. It's non-descript, but it will be forever etched in our minds not for its architecture, but for its location. 

On my usual commute, there was little to notice about New Hampshire Avenue. It was a marker for me. Fort Totten would be coming up. The bridge tells me to fold my newspaper, to get ready to move toward the door. 

What the passengers of Train 112 thought about the New Hampshire Avenue Bridge as they approached is probably lost for all time. The events of the next few seconds would overpower idle thinking. Unbeknownst to the passengers aboard the speeding train, Train 214 was stopped just south of the bridge, around a slight curve, to await a train servicing Fort Totten. 

Looking North toward Silver Spring

The collision brought residents from blocks away. Car 1079 sprawled on top of the rear of Train 214. Seats were scattered about, panicked passengers trapped inside. 

That was Monday. When I walked through the neighborhood that evening, fire trucks and ambulances, police tape and spectators kept me far back. Traffic was being diverted off of New Hampshire, and trains were delayed. 


After work today, I took the shuttle from Silver Spring to Fort Totten. Realizing how close I was to the scene once more, I decided to walk up and take a look. I was surprised at how many people were stopping. The shoulders on both sides of the bridge were full of cars. Flowers and balloons had been left along the railing. 

Below the tracks sat empty. The 12 cars of Train 214 and 112 were gone, but track inspectors in fluorescent green vests were down below. Some workers were replacing the fence separating the Metro and MARC/CSX tracks. 

Looking South toward Fort Totten, some 3rd rail is missing

As I paused to reflect on the scene below, a MARC train bound for the Potomac River Valley came into view. It sounded its horn and crept slowly through the site with its bell ringing constantly. 

I'm glad I wasn't aboard 112. I travel over this stretch of track twice daily. I've traveled from Silver Spring toward downtown during the timeframe that 112 and 214 travel, although with trains every two minutes, I may never know if I've been on either of those trains. But I'll certainly have something to think about when next I ride the Red Line under New Hampshire Avenue. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Look At Metro's Safety Systems

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington

Yesterday’s Red Line crash is a horrible reminder that sometimes things go badly wrong. By all accounts, this accident should not have happened. Not only are safety features present, but the train operator should have been able to hit the emergency stop in case the system failed.

It’s far too early to speculate on the cause of the collision at this time. However, those familiar with the system already suspect that something went wrong in Metro’s signaling system that allowed these trains to approach and collide.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Metro’s safety systems are supposed to work.

Automatic Train Control
Metro trains operate within the confines of a system known as ATC – Automatic Train Control. The ATC system was designed to allow for a minimum in involvement from train operators. In the design phase of Metro this was intended to provide the safest, most efficient, and most comfortable operations possible – something it has largely achieved. Trains running in the Metro system can be operated automatically or manually by operators. Either way, they are subject to aspects of the ATC system.

In order to make ATC work, three subsystems are required.

Automatic Train Protection (ATP) is the most important. In a nutshell, this system prevents two trains from occupying the same space at the same time. In addition to controlling interlockings (crossovers or switches), the ATP system maintains safe distances between trains and allows for safe stopping distances through speed regulation (including 0 speed, e.g. “stop”). Additionally, the ATP system prevents trains from exceeding the design speed of any given stretch of track. This speed is known as the Limiting speed. Another feature of ATP keeps train doors from opening unless the train is properly berthed on the platform.

ATP operates whether the train is in manual or automatic mode. If a train exceeds the Limiting Speed for more than two seconds, an automatic brake application is made until the train is brought below the Regulating Speed.

Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) keeps trains running on schedule and within certain performance parameters. This system is how the Operations Control Center modifies allowed train speeds and rates of acceleration. It also takes into account scheduled train departure and arrival times, and based on set parameters, increases or decreases train speeds and station dwell times automatically. This system sets the Regulated Speed, which can be modified by the Operations Control Center.

ATS only operates when the train is in automatic mode; however, the Regulated Speed set by ATS to each track segment applies as the maximum speed in both manual and automatic operation.

Automatic Train Operation (ATO) unifies some of the above aspects of the ATC system, to allow the train to automatically adjust certain parameters. This subsystem can be turned off by WMATA and is not used in manual operation.

Train Speeds
Metro tracks don’t have signals in the same way that older subways like New York do. Visible wayside signals only exist at switches. They are capable of displaying to the operator three things: Stop, Clear, Clear Diverging (take the switch). A “stop” indication is shown with two red lights, one over the other. This is displayed if the switches are not set, for tracks with trains approaching from the other direction, and when a train moving the same direction is still in the block controlled by the signal. A “clear” aspect is a solid lunar white light. This indicates that the operator may proceed straight through the switch. The “clear diverging” signal is indicated by a flashing lunar white light. This means that the switch is set for the “turning” route, and the train is clear to proceed.

In other sections of track, equipment along the trackway transmits the appropriate information from the ATC system to passing trains. In addition to the design or limiting speed on a given stretch of track, wayside equipment can reduce speeds for curves and to maintain train spacing.

In order to maintain train spacing, each segment of track is divided into fixed blocks. Whenever a train is in a block, its axles complete the circuit in the track. So long as that circuit is complete, the ATP system prevents other trains from entering. The ATC system is designed to keep a safe distance between trains. It communicates with the wayside devices and track circuits and transmits Regulated Speed commands to trains. The ATC system brings down the Regulated Speed as a following train approaches a preceding train, until at a point where the minimum safe stopping distance is reached, the speed is zero. As the preceding train moves further away, the following train’s Regulated Speed would come up.

As noted above, the Regulating Speed is binding on automatic and manual operations. When operating properly, it automatically applies the brakes if that speed is exceeded for more than two seconds. However, the system can be overridden so that trains can approach each other or in case of an ATC failure. For instance, when a train is stranded and must be pushed to the next station, the following train must be able to enter the same block. Under these circumstances, trains are operated manually in a different “mode” which limits their speed to fifteen miles per hour. Trains must be stopped with a full brake application to change modes.

Ultimately, however, the train operator is the final failsafe. If the ATC system appears unable to stop a train in time, the operator can push the Emergency Stop, called the “Mushroom” because of its shape.

The Washington Post is now reporting that the striking train was two months overdue for scheduled brake maintenance. A degradation of brake performance could have played a role in yesterday’s accident. In 1996, in Metro’s first train collision, snow and ice compounded with a reset of the Regulated Speed resulted in a collision killing the operator of a train at Shady Grove.

The design of the ATC system, it was discovered, did not account for inclement weather. Because the train was allowed to achieve the Limiting Speed (in this case 75 miles per hour) on the stretch of track between Rockville and Shady Grove, when the train reached the outer station marker 2,700 feet from the center of the Shady Grove platform, even a full application of the brakes by ATC would not have stopped the train in time. This is because the ice reduced the coefficient of friction far below what the designers had considered. ATC blocks had been designed with a minimum braking deceleration of 1.65 mph/second in mind.

In the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report investigating the Shady Grove Incident, investigators noted that:
This accident occurred at a terminal station, but a similar accident could occur anywhere on the Metrorail system where conditions make a train deceleration rate of at least 1.65 mph/sec unachievable. If a train, because of an equipment malfunction or other reasons, were to come to a stop on the mainline, the ATC system would give any train following behind appropriate speed commands (including zero speed commands) to allow the train to stop in time avoid a collision. But, as shown by this accident, on outdoor track under extreme weather conditions, the distance required to stop the following train may be significantly longer than the available track. During rush hour, with crowded trains, scores of people could be killed or seriously injured. (page 61)

However, the Red Line accident yesterday evening took place under clear skies on a warm evening. It’s far too early to suggest brake failure as the cause, but it is certainly a possibility. Another possibility is that the ATC system itself failed. This morning’s Post referred to a June 2005 incident where three trains came close to colliding in the tunnel near Rosslyn. In this case, an emergency brake application by two operators prevented a crash. The Post reported that it was unclear if an investigation launched by Metro ever determined a cause.

It will likely be twelve to eighteen months before the NTSB report on yesterday’s collision is released. Some preliminary findings will probably be available in a few weeks. We may never know the exact cause, or we may discover that the accident was the result of a convergence of factors. The NTSB usually finds that accidents are preventable, and will make recommendations to keep an accident like this one from happening again. Their recommendations are just recommendations, however.

In the past, WMATA has followed some NTSB recommendations and not followed others. Two recommendations which they did not successfully complete include the installation of data recorders on all railcars and full retirement or reinforcement of the 1000 Series Railcars. They are currently taking a lot of heat for this, but in reality, they have had little choice in the matter.

The 1000 Series makes up about one-third of the Metro Fleet. Removing them from the tracks would mean major cutbacks in rail service. They’re already scheduled for retirement when replaced by the new 7000 Series in a few years. And while data recorders would have made the NTSB investigation easier, it would probably have not prevented this crash. Perhaps this tragedy will serve as a wakeup call to everyone in the process. Metro is underfunded, and has been for years. Deferred maintenance is taking its toll, and is keeping railcars in service longer than they should be. Everyone, from the local jurisdictions to the federal government should be willing to fund upgrades, especially considering that lives are at stake.

The information in this post was gathered from:
Data from: Final Environmental Impact Statement (1975), Page 18o (document)/76 (pdf)
available at:


NTSB Report on the Collision of WMATA Trains at Shady Grove, January 6, 1996
available at:

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Metro Service: 6/23

Due to yesterday's fatal Metro collision, service on the Red Line will be disrupted during the AM peak, if not longer. Additionally, there will be NO BRUNSWICK LINE service on the MARC commuter rail. 

The Red Line will operate in two separate segments: from Glenmont to Silver Spring and from Shady Grove to Rhode Island Avenue. Free shuttle buses will connect Rhode Island Avenue, Brookland, Fort Totten, Takoma, and Silver Spring Stations. Trains on the Red Line will be operating 8-10 minutes apart, quite a bit less than the normal 2-3. Passengers can expect overcrowded conditions. 

Passengers should try to keep to alternate routes if possible. Shuttles will likely be overcrowded, so patrons should try the normal bus routes. 

Alternatives include:
  • 70s Line, Georgia Avenue/7th Street: Archives to Silver Spring
  • S Line, 16th Street: Downtown to Silver Spring
  • C4: Twinbrook to Wheaton to Prince George's Plaza
  • C2: Twinbrook to Wheaton to College Park
  • J1: Medical Center to Silver Spring
  • J2, J3, J4: Bethesda to Silver Spring (J4 to College Park)
  • Q2: Rockville to Wheaton to Silver Spring

Monday, June 22, 2009

Red Line Collision Mars Commute

The big news of the evening was a collision between two Red Line trains on the DC Metro. The most recent reports tally 6 deaths and more than 70 injuries. The crash between two inbound trains occurred under the New Hampshire Avenue overpass, just north of Fort Totten station. The accident happened at about 5:02p. 

I work in Silver Spring, a Red Line stop north of the crash site. I live in DC's Petworth neighborhood, just off the Green Line. At the time of the accident, I was still at work, although I was preparing to leave. Every day I travel over this stretch of track, and my commute was quite a bit longer this evening. I thought I'd post a few of my observations from today.

Firstly, I found out about the incident not from WMATA, but from Maryland's MTA. The MTA operates MARC commuter trains, and I'm subscribed to their service announcements. They announced that Brunswick Line trains would be holding at Union Station indefinitely due to the incident. 

Needing to know how to get home, I tried Metro's website, which was receiving so much traffic that it refused to load. Originally, WTOP reported that trains were operating between Glenmont and Takoma, where I could transfer to my local bus line (50s Line). However, when I got to Silver Spring Metro, the station manager just repeatedly yelled "No Trains, No Trains, No Trains." There was no crowd of people, he just kept repeating it. When I approached, he just repeated it with more focus. This was despite the fact that I could hear the train operator upstairs announcing that her train was going to Glenmont. And while the vast majority of commuters do travel toward DC, some do commute to Glenmont. Therefore it was not entirely expedient to announce "No Trains." 

I met my boyfriend, who also works in Silver Spring, at the nearby McDonald's. He had left work at 5:00, and gone to Silver Spring like usual. He boarded a train, which was held "due to delays" for a few minutes. After about 10 minutes, the train was taken out of service, and everyone was told they would not be able to go downtown. Stranded, and unaware of local bus routes, he called his brother to come pick him up. I caught a ride with them to College Park, where I could catch the Green Line.

At the station, I was surprised to hear the announcements. They reported that due to a "train experiencing mechanical difficulties," major disruptions were occurring on the Red Line. Mechanical Difficulties? That's a bit light Metro. It also didn't jibe with the PIDS screens, which reported Red Line service disruptions because of "police activity at Fort Totten." It seems a bit disingenuous to underrepresent something like this. Most passengers have alternative methods to find out about these things (e.g. cell phones), and to attribute 6 deaths to "mechanical difficulties" is a bit of a stretch. 

I got off at Fort Totten, because I was curious. I walked toward the scene, to see what was visible. I passed a person waiting on the Shuttle, who wondered why he had to find out about this from his Aunt in Florida and not from Metro. I heard others on the news later espouse similar views. From Metro, mum was the word.

The area around New Hampshire and First NE was wild. News crews littered the fringe of the scene, with knots of onlookers scattered about. Most of the area closest to the overpass was roped off, with police, fire, and rescue personnel still working on the search for the injured. Walking further up, I eventually caught a glimpse of the rear of the second train, but I couldn't see the telescoped car. There were fire trucks and ambulances from several jurisdictions, including Kensington and Wheaton in Maryland. Also present was the Prince George's County Ambulance/Bus. 

Finally, I trekked back to Fort Totten, and rode the Green Line home. I'm not fearful of riding the Metro. In fact, I have little alternative, but it's still the safest mode of travel in the region. The last time an accident killed a Metro rider was in 1982. Hopefully it will be a lot longer until the next time. 

Photos from my trek. All photos are from/on Blair Road south of Oglethorpe Street.

The next one is actually from 1st and New Hampshire NE.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Brown Shirts and Red Caps

Since not all of you follow conservative blogs, you might have missed it when a popular US Congressman called Amtrak a fascist organization. In a column earlier this week in the American Daily Review, former presidential candidate and Congressman from Texas, Ron Paul, rails against - well against the government really - but in this case, he's particularly upset by "bailouts."

He is most angered by the recent federal bailout of (and subsequent controlling interest in) General Motors. To make his case, he falls back on the most favorite of conservative pastimes, attacking Amtrak. Of course comparing it to fascism is a new twist, but the general meat of his argument is pretty consistent with what conservatives have been saying about government-supported passenger rail since the Nixon Administration.

Mr. Paul asserts that the promise that the government takeover of GM is temporary is false. As proof he cites the government "purchase" of Amtrak. Mr. Paul claims that the government promised to be out of the passenger rail business within 3 years, but that now, 40 years later, with billions invested, Amtrak is still a fiscal loser. Mr. Paul also claims that the government is so inept at running things that despite making Amtrak a monopoly, it's still unprofitable. He worries that same things will be the case with GM.

He is right about one thing: Amtrak is a fiscal loser. Mr. Paul's other claims are inaccurate. No promises were ever made about a sunset on Amtrak. The Nixon Administration had made secret assertions that Amtrak would wither and die before the rollingstock could be repainted, but despite Nixon's hopes that one last hurrah would be sufficient to let passenger service on America's railroads end, the American public and Congress had different ideas. Even today, support for Amtrak keeps conservative politicos at bay.

More importantly, Amtrak is not a monopoly. Besides having to compete with cars and planes, which are also subsidized by the American taxpayer, Amtrak is not a mandated monopoly. Other rail modes are available, including commuter trains, many of which duplicate Amtrak service for a cheaper rate. And nothing precludes corporations from starting other rail services. In fact, the United States government is currently seeking investors to implement high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor and around the country.

Another point of contention I have with Mr. Paul's argument is that he cites the government purchase of Amtrak to save passenger rail from bankruptcy. But the American taxpayer didn't buy Amtrak, they created it. They did so to save not only passenger rail, but freight rail, too. In the face of increasing federal investment in Airports and Interstate Highways, passenger rail ridership had fallen to all-time lows on the private carriers' beloved trains. Because the Interstate Commerce Commission regulated intercity trains, and because they mandated that service be maintained on often unprofitable routes and required a long, tedious process before any routes could be discontinued, passenger service threatened to bring down the entire industry, already on the brink of destruction.

Amtrak was created as a way to save the railroads. In return for preferred stock in the company, private railroads could pay Amtrak to assume designated routes through monetary means or through equipment. Initially, at least, Amtrak's fleet was made up of the remnants of many formerly separate fleets. The routes to be saved had been designated by the US DOT as a part of a National Network. Over time, these routes have also dwindled, although some, like the Pioneer, may soon return.

Like other modes, Amtrak is not profitable - at least not directly. The Interstates don't make money either, but they do generate other benefits. So does Amtrak. The Northeast Corridor has now captured half of the travel share of trips between Washington and New York. Amtrak also provides access to many communities far too small for an airport of their own. Without Amtrak's network of trains, we'd have a less robust transportation network, as September 11 proved, when airports and sold-out rental cars left trains as one of the only options for many.

Now, as far as I can tell, operating a national rail system does not make a nation fascist. But Mr. Paul says that "comingling public control of private business" is the definition of fascism. While I'm sure Congressman Paul is much more experienced than I with public-private corporate totalitarianism, I decided not just to take his word for it. So I looked up "fascism" in a dictionary.

Fascism is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, "a system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism."

Now, I'm not an expert in government systems, so I'll defer to the person who is a member of one and assume that Mr. Paul's assertions are accurate. In that regard, I thought I'd just make a brief list of other countries which we can assume are fascist because they have nationalized passenger rail networks. (List is not exhaustive)
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Greece
  • India
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Peru
  • Portugal
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • The United States

Friday, June 19, 2009

Metro Service Advisory 6/20 & 21

This weekend, there will be major service disruptions on the Blue Line. For more information, see Metro's press release.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gay Marriage Coming to New Hampshire

More on Transportation later. I know two LGBT posts in a row is a bit off subject, but hey, good news is good news, right? Cross-posted at The New Gay.


Early last month, New Hampshire’s Legislature voted to approve same-sex marriage in the Granite State. Governor John Lynch, however, was unsatisfied with the language. Making a statement after the vote, he called for better protection for religious groups who might refuse to participate in gay marriage.

Giving precise language he wanted adopted, the leadership of the legislature worked to revise the bill to appease the Governor. The revised bill passed the State Senate on May 21, but fell short by only one vote in the House. This failure sent the bill to conference committee where a compromise was hammered out.

Governor Lynch had indicated that he supports the changes made in conference, and would sign the bill if it passed the legislature. This morning, the bill passed in the Senate 14-10 and was sent on to the House, where a close vote was expected.

The bill’s chances in the House were bolstered by the outcome of a special election, which seated a supporter of gay marriage in the House. Andy White, a firefighter and school board member from Lebanon was elected to fill a vacancy. He was sworn in and seated in time for today’s vote.

The House passed the measure this afternoon with a margin of 198-176, sending the bill onto Governor Lynch. His office reported that the Governor was expected to sign the bill at 5:15PM Eastern Time today. When he does so, New Hampshire will become the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage. In New England, only Rhode Island doesn’t allow same-sex marraige.

Presently, efforts are also underway in New York, although the marriage bill faces slim chances in the Senate there. Additionally, the Council District of Columbia is expected to introduce a bill allowing gay marriages in our nation’s capital sometime later this year.

Victory in New Hampshire comes just days after the Supreme Court of California upheld Proposition 8, which made gay marriages in the Golden State illegal. Some 18,000 gay couples remain legally wed, however, having done so before Proposition 8 passed.


Cross-posted in my Dispatches Column at The New Gay.


A famous senator from Arizona once said that "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." And while I don't often quote Barry Goldwater, his words ring true for me. I am also reminded of the words attributed to William Gladstone, that "Justice delayed is justice denied.

The past few weeks have been amazing in the struggle for gay rights. Six months ago, gay marriage was legal in only one state. It had just been disallowed in the most populous of our states, and many of us, myself included, were disheartened. Our new, young President-Elect promised to make changes, but even he was not a supporter of civil marriage for same-sex couples. 

But 2009 has proven to be a red-letter-year for our struggle. Now five states allow gay marriage. Connecticut became the second just days after California voters amended their constitution to make it illegal, and it has been followed by Iowa, Vermont, and Maine. It looks that New Hampshire will follow suit soon as well. 

Yet all of this activity has only sufficed to make me less content with the status quo. Six months ago, I wondered if I would even live to see gay marriage in my home state of Georgia. Today, I am frustrated beyond all belief over Governor Lynch's recent delay tactics in New Hampshire. I don't live in New Hampshire, and I've only even been there just once. But his refusal to sign the bill because of an objection which amounts to mere semantics is frustrating. It is likely that this delay will be just that - a delay. New Hampshire will probably become the sixth state to allow gay marriage before summer is over, but I no longer count the struggle for gay rights in years. Now I regard every day as a potential game-changer. I am no longer content to wait. I have become more and more impatient.

The past few years have resulted in many advances. But these advances have not been enough. As an employee of the State of Maryland, I now have the ability to get Domestic Partner benefits, but that's not enough. I want to have the ability to check the spouse box on my HR forms, not the Domestic Partner box. I want the ability to marry, not to civilly unify. Words matter, especially symbolic ones. There is little more symbolic in a relationship than the word "marriage." Yet this is a word continuously denied to me. To us.

Many suggest that we should be content to accept a different word. Even if there is no legal difference, it is said, we're not allowed to use the same word. In Brown v. Board of Education the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously that separate is inherently unequal. A separate word, whether it be civil union or domestic partner or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, is not the word marriage. 

The strange thing is that even our opponents can agree to that. They claim that the sanctity of marriage is preserved so long as the word is insulated. They can see the nuance in language, and they use that to deny us a word. "What's the big deal," they ask, "you're getting everything else. It's just a word." But if it's just a word, why do they care so much about it? Because it's not just a word. It is a symbol. 

And it's a right. In a unanimous decision in 1967's Loving Decision, the United States Supreme Court overturned Virginia's miscegenation laws. The opinion of the court states that "Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival..." That sounds pretty darn clear to me. And I'm tired of waiting.

Of course, I don't mean to deplore the rights we have won after hard fights. Is a domestic partnership better than an unrecognized relationship? Yes. Should we continue to fight for what rights we can achieve? Yes. But we should not settle. Not until no child in America has to fear coming out of the closet will I settle. And as long as the government insists on making prejudiced and unjust distinctions, homophobia and heterosexism will continue to thrive unabated in America. Gay children will see that some citizens are allowed to marry, but not their gay role models. Not their friends' homosexual parents. Not those who might give them the hope and confidence necessary to deal with the coming out experience.

And while nothing short of a Supreme Court ruling will assuage my impatience, my confidence is bolstered by some recent news. Support for both civil unions and gay marriage is increasing across the United States. Additionally, more and more of the electorate is self-identifying as LGBT. I'm confident that full gay rights are only a matter of when not if, but the progress is not fast enough for me. Last week, former presidential candidate Howard Dean said that gay marriage will not even be an issue in 2010. Next year. I hope he's right, but the tide does not seem to be moving that quickly to me.