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Five years after electronic flaws caused the 2009 Red Line crash near Ft. Totten, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority is planning to bring automatic train operation back to the Red Line.
Starting in early October, computers, through automatic train operation (ATO), will take over the task of driving six Red Line trains daily during non-peak hours. According to The Washington Post, all Red Line trains are supposed to be running on automatic train operation by March. Drivers will remain in the cab on ATO trains to ensure safety and smooth operations if the systems fail again.
Automatic train operation is a standard feature in most modernized public transit systems, but the 2009 crash and the subsequent upheaval, including the resignation of former General Manager John Catoe Jr., led Metro to re-adopt the use of manual train operations across all of Metro’s lines.
Many Metro consumers across all lines, including yours truly, have subsequently experienced more delays, jerkier rides and the constant cycle of weekend Red Line repairs, as profiled on Twitter and elsewhere.
In talking with the Post, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said “Symbolically, it’s an important sign of all the work we’ve done over the last four or five years to bring the [transit] system back to where it should be.”
The benefits of automatic train operation include smoother driving, efficient use of speed, and the precise maintenance of distance between multiple trains traveling on one line. Drivers on ATO trains would mainly manage the doors, make announcements to passengers and make sure the tracks were clear in front of the otherwise automatic train. The shift to manual driving after 2009 had lead to a greater deal of consumer frustration over delays and increased wear, tear and energy consumption in the cars themselves.
The outdated modules, which transmitted data to on-train computers, were removed from the Red Line following the 2009 crash. Automatic train operation cannot begin on the other Metro lines until the remaining 711 old modules are replaced.
Officials, according to the Post, estimate this removal and replacement will be finished by 2017. In addition, because all of the other Metro lines share track with at least one other line, the resumption of ATO across the entire Metro will have to wait until the module removal is complete across all lines.
There are other complications as well. ATO was a feature of the Metro upon its opening in 1967, but hasn’t been present since 2009. Metro has a high enough level of employee turnover that only a few of Metro’s 600 train operators know how to operate the train alongside the computer. The rest had been hired sometime after the crash.
Automatic train operation will be implemented, at first, on six trains running on the Red Line during the non-peak hours, which include “weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. until the subway closes.”
Featured image from Shutterstock.com
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