Metro Knew of Brakes: Defective Equipment on Many Subway Cars

By Keary, Jim | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Metro Knew of Brakes: Defective Equipment on Many Subway Cars


Keary, Jim, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Metro knew about defective anti-locking brakes on about half of its subway cars prior to a fatal accident at the beginning of a blizzard Jan. 6, which involved a train made up of cars with the suspect brakes, Metro General Manager Lawrence Reuter said yesterday.

At the time of the crash, which occurred when a train operator slid past an outdoor platform and smashed into a parked train, Metro was considering making modifications to the 2000 and 3000 Series Breda subway cars, 366 cars in Metro's 764-car fleet.

The train that crashed at the Shady Grove Metrorail station, killing operator Darel Callands, 41, was made up of four Series 3000 cars.

"They were looking at braking systems [at the time of the accident]," he said yesterday.

Since the accident, modifications have been made to 358 of the Italian-made cars, excluding four test cars and the four involved in the crash, Mr. Reuter said. He would not say exactly what the modifications were, but they involved a control module on the anti-lock braking system.

"We modified them to enhance the brakes. To a series of cars we changed the [anti-lock system] to stop the wheels from slipping and sliding," said Mr. Reuter, who leaves his post March 8 to take over the New York City Transit Authority, the country's largest subway system.

The 80,000-pound Breda cars with the defective brakes were the same ones purchased by Metro in the 1980s, despite the fact that they exceeded weight specifications by 5,000 pounds. A 1987 audit of the car purchases showed the additional weight caused excessive wear to the brakes as well as the propulsion system.

Mr. Reuter also said it appears any mechanical defect had to be in the cars since the computerized control system along the tracks appears to work fine. That system automatically controls operations on all trains, including braking.

Despite sliding through two previous stations that night, Mr. Callands was told to keep his train in automatic. Metro train controllers had asked supervisors to allow him to take manaul control of his train, but the request was denied. "The tests we've done show the ATC [automatic train controls] is operating properly," he said. "At this point in time, we've seen nothing in the wayside equipment, nothing in the computer system."

Mr. Reuter said Metro and National Transportation Safety Board investigators are trying to determine if the flawed brakes or other factors caused the Shady Grove crash. He could not give specifics of defects in the brakes since the accident is being investigated by the NTSB, which restricts agencies being investigated from making comments about the investigation. …

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