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Metro Shuts Down Red Line After Detecting Same Problem that Led to Deadly 2009 Fort Totten Crash

By: Allan M. Siegel

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“Metro”) decided to shut down the red line over the weekend of December 16 to 17, 2017, after tests found deteriorating insulation on the electrical cables that stretch over certain areas of the track. These cables are used to detect the location of trains on the track, so that Metro can coordinate the trains, to maximize speed and avoid collisions. When cable insulation deteriorates too much, it can cause a cable to leak electricity, which in turn can lead the electrical transmission of the cables to flicker on and off (this is called a “bobbing circuit”).

A bobbing circuit can cause the detection system on a part of the track to fail. When that happens, any train that happens to be on that track section becomes “invisible” to the rest of the train system. This is what happened in 2009 near the Fort Totten station: A train came to a stop on a section of track that had a bobbing circuit. Because this train wasn’t detected by the rest of the train system, a second train failed to stop, and crashed into the rear of the first train.

The 2009 collision killed nine people and injured many more. Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., represented the estate of a passenger who died in the crash in a lawsuit against Metro, which ultimately paid over $900,000 in a settlement reached by the firm.

Metro had to pay dearly when its failure to maintain track safety led to the 2009 crash. Fortunately, it appears that Metro has learned at least something from the experience, as it labors to fix a similar problem on the tracks before a new disaster happens.

If you or anyone you know has been injured in a train accident or while using Metro transportation, you should contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a free consultation.