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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Red Line Crash still haunts Metro

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Opinion,DC,Local Editorial,Metro and Traffic,Railroads

Financial settlements with the victims of Metro's June 22, 2009, Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured more than 80 have already reached tens of millions of dollars -- and the final reckoning is far from over.

As The Washington Examiner's Kytja Weir reported last Tuesday, the $48.5 million paid out in the last fiscal year alone amounted to 3 percent of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's entire operating budget. That's enough to purchase 24 new rail cars or 80 hybrid buses -- and it wasn't covered by insurance.

In the past five years, Metro has paid out $173 million in legal claims, including an undisclosed amount for a Metrobus crash in 2008 that killed a California man and injured his wife and two children. But the claims escalated following the Fort Totten accident, the worst in Metro's history.

In February, Weir reported that Metro and its three track equipment manufacturers -- Alstom Signaling, Ansaldo STS USA and ARINC -- filed court documents announcing they would "stipulate to liability" in four remaining cases in order to avoid "significant risks and costs" associated with litigation. This first public admission of guilt, more than two years after the crash, no doubt saved the transit agency millions of additional dollars, but it also confirmed the National Transportation Safety Board's findings that the tragic accident could have been prevented had Metro not ignored the many warning signs and kept its equipment in good repair.

That was cold comfort to the families of Ana Fernandez and LaVonda King, who between them left eight young children motherless.

Metro riders and local taxpayers will be paying for this catastrophe for some time to come. Because victims had until June 22 of this year to file claims, and some settlements made last year were not finalized by the end of the fiscal year, the financial fallout is still not over.

As a result of the Red Line accident, Metrorail trains are still manually operated because the transit agency still cannot guarantee that the computerized signaling system that failed in 2009 won't fail again. Metro's annual liability insurance premiums have nearly doubled. These costs are passed on to passengers and local jurisdictions that fund Metro.

Because the settlements are confidential, the final cost of the Red Line crash will never be fully known, although it will surely top $100 million. And that's in addition to the incalculable pain and suffering caused by Metro's negligence.

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