Liveblogging the Metro Crash Hearing
A quiet day on the Metro. Photo by Dsade.

A quiet day on the Metro. Photo by Dsade.

Liveblogging below the fold

5:34 That’s a rap, folks. I’ll have some cogent thought up shortly.

5:23 What haven’t you gotten to say? (Thank god.) Graham most wants “probable cause.” Wants to stop the public from spreading misinformation. Catoe thinks that we need to think about expansion as including more maintainance. Herzman: we don’t have to do cost/benefit analysis, so please understand that. That’s our job. They choose implementation. Rokoff: There are a lot of different models. We’ve talked about FTA vs. Fed. RR Admin. safety. But there’s tons, so take a look around. Madison: please fund us.

5:21 Herzman: In air traffic control, there are people tracking all the airplanes and can tell the pilots if they need to. So if an airplane is coming in too low, for pilot or mechanical reasons, someone knows.

5:19 Lynch is all about testing. If there’s automation, he argues, we have to be very sure that we can trust it and that there are fail-safe measures.

5:16 Lynch asks if replacement circuit was tested when replaced on June 17. Catoe says yes, and tests showed it was working properly. After the accident, that test didn’t come back as working correctly, so it wasn’t the test per se.

5:14 Catoe gives WMATA an A or a B in learning best practices.

5:12 Catoe strongly supports those who have been reporting negligent driver behavior. Interesting question by Chaffetz.

5:08 Chaffetz is back. And I was right, everyone else was voting. Sad. He asks Catoe what “devote all our resources means.” Catoe answers that upcoming “projects” might get canceled, but not operations.

5:05 Norton is talking about a financing scheme that she is implying locked WMATA into the old 1000-cars. The answers to the questions seem to imply that every other big transit system did the same and that their flexibility wasn’t really constrained. This is a little hard to follow, though, I’ll admit.

4:54 Madison being forced to explain why TOC doesn’t even have a website. Claims doesn’t know what jurisdiction would maintain it. Norton: “why would it be so hard to say DC you do it this year, VA will do it next year.”

It’s really true. If you can’t put up a website, you are just worthless. What task would be easier to to figure out?

4:51 Rogoff doesn’t want to be able to spend for safety, as Mica wanted. Thinks it’s a conflict of interest because you’d be paying the operating costs of their inspectors regulators. Money needs to come from somewhere else.

4:46 Norton is mad mad mad at the NTSB! For not recommending interim steps instead of best practices, in cases where there isn’t the money/speed to act immediately. It’s politician vs. bureaucrat/engineer.

4:43 I think that Norton is the only one left at the hearing because everyone else had to go for a vote. That is totally sad.

4:40 Norton “The first thing to occur to know-nothing me” was putting the 1000-series cars in the middle. Why didn’t the experts think that? Now Norton is arguing that the engineers lack the common people’s perspective in seeing this solution. All the experts just keep saying that the NTSB has not found scientific evidence that would help. Norton rightfully calls that out for being a cop-out.

4:37 Norton keeps saying that this hearing will make the public feel safer because they know someone is investigating. I do not know why she thinks more than 50 people are still watching 2.5 hours in.

4:27 Lynch: What is top priority for what should happen next with Metro? Catoe: respond to NTSB recommendations.  After that, 1000-series car replacement. Then, capital funding for infrastructure upkeep. Rogoff: reform plans overall as discussed before. For WMATA, let’s not prejudge. Doesn’t care much about the cars – nothing will do that well at 59 mph. Madison: Investigation first. Then authority for enforcement of SSO recommendations. Then funding for training and staffing SSOs. Herzman: get to the bottom of it. Then the 11 open recommendations to WMATA (2 of which are unacceptable status.) Graham: he’s talking about how the device in question was replaced a few days before the crash but had the same problems as the first one. Didn’t really answer the question.

This was by far the most revealing single question.

4:24 Lynch to Graham: The last budget had lots of improvements, but not replacing 1000-series cars. Does the extra money help change that? Graham: Yes, we have RFP out and are just waiting for dedicated funding. This question was clearly to get the importance of this funding on the record.

4:21 Madison: every transit agency needs an SSO to approve safety plans. They also perform audits. TOC cannot enforce with fines or civil penalties. Is arguing that when TOC audits, WMATA listens, so the system works. Has found some extra funding by running things as training.

4:20 Madison has the tough job of describing the oversight that the TOC has had, after everyone has basically said that there is no oversight. Let’s see how he does.

4:14 Rogoff starts by talking about safety. Same amount of fatalities in region every two weeks by car as Metrorail has ever had. FTA is forbidden by federal law of setting safety standards. Compares this to MARC and VRE which are heavily regulated by the feds. Site was inspected for those lines or for CSX!! Says that new administration finds this ridiculous and is investing in intermodal sense of safety. Some dancing around about the funding, since it’s pretty popular on this committee but not in Obama’s budget. Also really against any hasty conclusions about safety.

4:08 – Herzman’s testimony is going through the investigation process. I had no idea that the FBI was on the scene for preliminary investigations. I guess they were worried about a terrorist attack. Keeps pointing out that the system should have prevented this crash whether it was automatic or manual operation. Redundancy in finding lost trains is her big issue (yesterday’s ruling).

4:02 Catoe has by far the most eloquent discussion of the sadness he feels at this tragedy. It seems the least perfunctory. Outlines the safety measures taken: manual operation, old cars in the middle and plans to replace them, inspection of each signaling device. Has already begun implementing NTSB’s recommendations from yesterday about redundancy. Warns riders that “normal” won’t be back any time soon. Also urges Compact Amendments and appropriation of $150m.

3:58 Graham first talks about releasing relief funds for victims – he’s a good politician! Basically says we’ll take care of safety, but you need to give us the money (which I think he missed being released yesterday? – Oh, now’s he’s fixed that.) Then thanked like every single member of Congress.

3:55 Panel 2: Jim Graham, Chairs Council Committee on Transp. and WMATA Board Chair. John Catoe, GM of WMATA. Deborah Herzman (sp?), NTSB. Eric Madison, Tri-state Oversight Committee chair. Peter Rogoff, head of FTA. A lot of these people have experience as Congressional staff.

3:50 Van Hollen doesn’t ask any questions or say anything. But it’s good he showed he cares.

3:46 Millar believes that WMATA is at least as safe as any other transit system.

3:43 Norton assures Tuite that his testimony is important, then just goes right to policy. Asks Millar if 1000-series cars should be put in the middle. Millar says yes. Norton asks if they’ve recommended that. Millar says no. Norton asks Jeter if there is something you should have to do as a driver to stay alert. Jeter says that operators are responsible for opening and closing doors, making announcements, listening to radios, and thinks that that’s enough to remain alert.

3:33 Tuite very late. That’s because he took the Red Line for the first time since the crash and it took him from 12:30 to 3:00 to get from Kensington to Capitol South. He’s a sometimes transit person – often drives. He also always sits in front car, except this time. Heard around Silver Spring or Takoma to expect delay from conductor.  Describes the crash. Everyone thrown out of their seats. After the loud bang, no noise at all and hard to see from the dust. Lots of details that I was basically happier not knowing, and won’t burden you with. Lots of small-scale heroism by people on the train, though a few people just walked away from the scene.

3:25 Bilbray wants to get into the weeds. “Once a transit operator, always a transit operator.” In the 70’s, everyone felt like automation was the future. When San Diego was designing it, heard that automatic with manual override was backwards, have manual with automatic override. Fatigue is worse if you just watch it go than if you actually have to operate it. Jeter thinks that automatic makes it smoother, but manual override is obviously necessary. Bilbray comes back to the driver’s mind wandering if not driving actively. Jeter recommends to drivers that if their mind starts to wander, they should stand up and stretch. The cameraphones would be all over that these days.

I personally worry that the computer overriding the manual system is the first step to some sort of Metro Terminator.

3:21 Cummings is definitely arguing for more human control. He also uses a story about getting his car fixed, unlike everyone else who talks about being a Metro rider.

3:19 Cummings – Is level of automation on Metro standard? Millar: At time of implementation, Metro was most automated. Today, “not so much.” Cummings: what are the risks of relying on so much automation (is Cummings calling for more manual operation. As a Red Line rider dealing with bumpier rides, I hope not…)? Millar: use your tech. appropriately – dull answer.

3:14 Norton to Millar: Who has adopted your voluntary standards? And why are you developing standards but no one has any power to enforce them? Millar: We find that once standards are agreed to (consensus), transit systems do use them.

Norton to Davis: Should some federal agency be charged with enforcing these standards? (Norton is on a roll, by the way. She’s mad, too.) Davis basically only has time to say that they have the authority before Norton moves on.

Norton to Jeter: These are high-paying union jobs. Shouldn’t it be easy to attract and retain high-quality staff?  Jeter: most of staff has been there less than 10 years. Because it’s not a very attractive job. But the problem is not in recruiting, just in retaining.

3:13 Lynch calls all women “Gentlelady.” That’s weird.

3:10 Connolly interrogating Jeter. Seems to be upset that her workers feel unsafe. Also seems to take the “retire the 1000 series now” position.

3:08 – Connolly pointing out that Metro has second highest farebox recovery in the country – Metro users paying their fair share. Argues that fed. gov. and tourists are the biggest beneficiaries. Davis compares it unfavorably to Moscow, which makes a better statement about what the country wants to see itself as. Eisenhower wanted it to be “the nation’s subway system” – Davis wants that vision.

3:06 Patrick Tuite, who was in the front of the second car of train 112, and helped people exit the train arrives. He’s a CUA prof.

3:05 Chaffetz: What’s #1 thing you’d like to see? Millar: comprehensive transportation bill. Jeter: dollars. Davis: approve Metro Compact amendments, and taking some stimulus money.

3:03 Chaffetz to Jeter: worries about morale. Quotes Jeter “I have people out there who are afraid.” Jeter: they are trained to be professionals, but your “instinct for survival at some point kicks in.” Heard from other operators that trains’ wayside equipment didn’t function properly elsewhere, though not causing crash. But they’re professionals. If a few need to go back to driving bus, that’s OK.

3:01 Chaffetz to Davis: What will happen if funding doesn’t happen? What else needs to happen besides money? Davis: just talks about the size of the hole

3:00 Jeter: It shouldn’t have occured that there was that “conflict.”

2:56 Lynch: Don’t use acronyms without first saying what it stands for. Lynch talks about Boston’s train collisions. Lynch doesn’t have a car when he comes to D.C. and seems proud of it. As he understands it, train 214 was being operated manually while 112 was on automatic. 112 should have detected the train in front of it and stopped. How do we resolve conflict btwn manual and automatic operation? Asks Jeter, b/c she’s the only one who’s actually been there as a driver (good for Lynch for being pro-worker!)?

2:50 – William Millar, president of APTA. Created free transit for PA seniors, ran Port Authority of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh). Odd to hear him identifying as representing public transit industry. Where does APTA fall in terms of being a special interest lobby? Notes increasing transit ridership rates – people have confidence in safety. Millar uses Metrorail daily. 29x safer using heavy rail transit compared to same trip in a car. Highway travel accounts for 94% of fatalities and 99% of injuries on transportation.

APTA has been in charge of developing standards for transit safety. Dept. of Transp. has designated APTA a standard development organization, and Congress has suported industry creating its own standards (Ick. Ick. Ick.).

2:43 Jackie Jeter, President of Local 689 Amalgamated – transit driver’s union.  Wants FAST action – no more studies. BUT, doesn’t want any conjecture about the causes at this hearing? Safety is 689’s #1 priority. Since 1982, NTSB has been recommending in-car monitors; 1000-series trains still don’t have this. After Shady Grove accident, NTSB asked for investigation into car telescoping. After Woodley Park crash, NTSB asked for retiring 1000-series. WMATA has not done any of these, citing costs and leases. Unfortunate that NTSB has no enforcement power. Also bad that no independent oversight organization besides Congress. “We need dollars.”

2:39 Bragging about the dedicated funding  – 1.5b from feds, 1.5b from localities, matching. That alone should make Metro safer in the future. “As policymakers, we bear responsibility.” Notes that independent IG instituted. Wants federal representation on WMATA board – Congress hasn’t approved the change in the Metro Compact yet. This is important b/c all three states will be provincial (NK: good luck with a political process appointing non-provincial federal reps!). More wireless is going to be available for Metro system. House has always been better than Senate to Metro.

2:38 Connolly introducing Tom Davis. This is absolutely glowing, as has everyone’s mention of Tom Davis. It’s like he’s the Chuck Norris of the D.C. region…

2:33 Cong. Issa (CA) – ranking member of full oversight committee. Frames it as “if you can’t get it right in D.C., you can’t get it right anywhere. If it’s not safe in D.C. at 59 mph, why should we feel safe with Maglev train and HSR? We must get this right if we are to move forward elsewhere. Talking about unspent stimulus money – could it be redirected to Metro safety?

2:26 John Mica (R-FL), on panel. He’s also ranking member of Transp. committee.  We do know that other transit systems rely on automatic systems: San Fran, Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Philly etc. On AMTRAK bill, they instituted requirements for same kind of positive safety systems. 3 years ago, a hearing he was on had the GAO say that more standards needed for transit systems. Unlike all other transp. systems, transit safety is all regulated at the local level. FTA doesn’t even allow spending funds to pay for safety offices/officers! Mica is sending a letter to FTA asking them to change their policy.  Finally, Mica also brings up him and Oberstar’s transp. bill and uses this as an opportunity to promote new transp. bill, not Obama’s renewal.

2:22 Norton – claims credit for requesting this hearing. Seems a little defensive about the hearing being before end of investigation. She knows Metro is still safe, but feels the public doesn’t think so. Riders will be reassured if know that enough oversight is happening. Thanks Rep. John Olver for appropriating this year’s committed $150m for Metro. Thanks Tom Davis for starting down road that leads to proper appropriation.

2:19 Chaffetz’s opening statement: There was an oversight hearing about WMATA in April.  Calls this a “crisis.” Identifies as a Metro rider, but says that he and many others identify with Post editorial – “we’ve had enough.” WMATA never installed the back-up system that BART did – why not? Holds up SmartTrip (though calls it “Metro card”) and smiles when he says he likes riding Metro, normally. He seems genuine about it.

2:17 – Lynch’s opening statement. 42% of federal employees rely on Metro, as do tourists. Framing this as a national, not local, issue. “Room for improvement” on safety issues. Wants to talk about WMATA funding as much as safety – he might want to talk more about funding. Goal isn’t to find the answer to what happened – knows that investigations are ongoing.

2:14 – They’re letting Chris Van Hollen (MD) sit in on the subcommittee.

2:03 – Hearing supposed to begin now. Not quite there yet…

In the meantime, the members of the subcommittee are:

Stephen F. Lynch (Boston), Chairman
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Danny Davis (Chicago)
Elijah Cummings (Baltimore)
Dennis Kucinich (Cleveland)
Lacy Clay (St. Louis)
Gerry Connolly (Fairfax County)

Jason Chaffetz (Provo Utah), Ranking Member
John McHugh (upstate NY, now Obama’s Sec. Army), Vice Ranking Member
Mark Souder (Fort Wayne, IN)
Brian Bilbray (San Diego)

The Dems are a remarkably urban bunch. They should be relatively sympathetic to transit and hopefully won’t turn this hearing into an indictment of subways. It’ll also be interesting to see what role Norton plays, as a non-voting member but representing the District.

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