Despite Crash, Most Metro Riders Remain Loyal

Norma Porter | 7/8/2009, 8:05 p.m.

Jermisa Curry perched herself on a bench with her young son in tow at the Brookland Metro Station in Northeast. It was about 9:30 p.m. on Mon. June 22. She had decided to wait for a Metro bus en route to the Stadium Armory in Southeast.

Initially, she said that she had planned to board the Green Line Metrorail train to Georgia Avenue-Petworth in Northwest and visit family members, but, she learned through news reports of the fatal Red Line collision that killed nine people and injured 80.

Curry, 19, elected to map out her route on the Metro bus system.

A student at the New Carrolton Hair Academy in New Carrolton, Md., Curry said that she rides Metrorail to go to school every day. However, in the wake of Monday evening€s crash, she said that she would never again ride Metrorail. The rail system has proven to be unsafe, she said.

€I€m not riding the train anymore because it€s dangerous. Normally, they will tell you that a train is in front of you and [they] tell you to hold for a minute until the train moves, but I don€t know if that happened. If it did happen, then it wouldn€t have run into the back of the [stationary] train,€ said Curry who lives in Northeast.

€I have a two-year-old son and I don€t want us to be on the train one day and we happen to get into a collision. I€d rather take the bus than the train because the bus is safer than the train,€ the concerned mother said. €I have to get on the New Carrolton train to get back and forth to school, so now I have to look for another [mode] of transportation.€

The night turned out to be logistical nightmare for Curry, other commuters and District residents. News reports alerted motorists and pedestrians alike that New Hampshire Avenue in Northeast had been shut down. The savvy Metrorail passenger who described herself as €being known for riding the trains€ opted to ride two Metro buses to reach her Stadium Armory destination in Southeast late. Once there, she said someone was scheduled to meet her.

€I don€t know how to travel without the train,€ she lamented.

Despite Curry€s vow to never ride Metrorail again, the number of riders who jumped on board Metrorail the day after the crash and subsequent days following the collision remained consistent with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority€s daily ridership.

€Typical weekday Metrorail ridership is between 750,000 and 800,000,€ said Angela Gates, a Metro spokesperson. Gates said that 718,367 passengers boarded Metrorail on Tues., June 23; 806,837 on Wed., June 24; and 813,554 on Thur., June 25.

Unlike Curry, there are Metrorail commuters who do not feel that the 33-year-old rail system is antiquated or dangerous. The catastrophe that involved Red Line train No. 112 was an anomaly.

P.J. Brown, 25, who lives in Northeast waited at the Fort Totten Metro Station on Mon., June 29 for the E2-Ivy City bus. One week had elapsed since the crash. He had traveled on the Red Line train from the Van Ness-UDC Metro Station on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest to the Northeast Metrorail station and bus depot -- a typical commute home.

Brown, a project assistant at the Center for Nutrition, Diet, and Health at The University of the District of Columbia in Northwest, said he decided to continue to ride Metrorail in spite of the fatal crash.

€I€ve got to get home and accidents happen,€ Brown said.

€I can walk outside and the [glass] canopy that riders stand underneath while waiting for Metro buses could crash on me. There€s no reason to stop riding Metrorail, it€s not like it [a train crash] happens all the time,€ the young professional said.

Gates said that Metro remains one of the safest mass transit systems in the country.

€Accidents involving fatal collisions are extremely rare. The only other time in Metrorail's 33-year history that there were fatalities, took place in January 1982, when three people died as a result of a derailment between Federal Triangle and the Smithsonian Metrorail stations,€ she said.

Recent investigations conducted by Metro and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that a device, designed to alert the train operator when another train is on the same track, was replaced on train No. 112 on Wed., June 17. The device malfunctioned and caused the collision to occur on Mon., June 22.

€What we found during a special review of the data after the accident was that the track circuit periodically lost its ability to detect trains. What the analytical profile showed was that the track circuit [€impedence€] would fail to detect a train only for a few seconds and then it appeared to be working again,€ Metro General Manager John B. Catoe said in a statement released on Wed., July 1.

€The device communicates information such as speed and distance between the tracks, trains and operations control center. The device was replaced as part of Metro€s normal track rehabilitation program,€ he said.