Metro seeking to replace $60.5m in track circuits

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir
Metro officials are planning to postpone millions of dollars of system maintenance to take safety steps urged in response to last year's deadly train crash.

The transit agency plans to ask its board of directors on Thursday to allow it to use $15.7 million for pay for the safety steps -- money that had been allocated for maintenance equipment in its current capital budget, according to a draft presentation.

The transit agency also is planning to spend an estimated $60.5 million over three years to replace the type of automatic train control equipment that was found to be faulty in the June 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine and injured dozens more.

The price tag for the new safety work is more than double the $30 million the agency had set aside for all safety steps in response to the crash. But it's a key part of the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendations for improving safety. The aging system already had a maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion, but now the federal safety board's recommendations are moving to the front of the line.

The work also marks the first step toward returning the system to automatic train operations, according to Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. Train operators have been driving trains manually since the crash, causing jerky train rides that lead to motion sickness among some commuters.

The Red Line, the system's oldest and busiest line, could be the first to return to automatic operations, Taubenkibel said. The work is expected to take about a year, but he declined to say when automatic operations would resume. "We're taking it one step at a time," he said.

The agency plans to replace all track circuits made by one company, GRS, in 59 train control rooms that run the safety system.

In July, the National Transportation Safety Board called for Metro to remove all of the 1,482 track circuits exhibiting the same "parasitic oscillations" that prevented the train control system from seeing the stopped Red Line train that was hit during the crash.

Metro has replaced some track circuits already, Taubenkibel said. Much of the remaining work likely would occur overnight, with trains sharing a single track after 10 p.m.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner