Metro is making two critical safety fixes to its rail cars: upgrading electronics to prevent them from rolling backward and repairing door controls so they open on the correct side of the tracks at station stops.

The Metro board approved funding for the repairs at its Thursday meeting. The rollback protection software will cost $813,000 and be installed on 182 cars by the end of the summer, according to a Metro press release issued Friday. The software upgrade is designed to prevent trains from rolling backward while they are operating in manual mode.

The National Transportation Safety Board urged the transit agency to install the protection on all rail cars after a 2004 crash at the Woodley Park station when a train unexpectedly rolled back and rammed another one, injuring 20 people.

Since then, Metro has retrofitted about half its fleet, but transit agency safety officials have said financial and logistical challenges have slowed work. The announcement Thursday still leaves 100 cars out of 1,134 without the protection. A fix for those cars, known as the 4000 series, “is still in the development stage,” Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

The board’s actions came as the NTSB concluded a three-day hearing this week into the June Red Line crash that killed nine people. The hearing included tough questioning about Metro’s failure to address outstanding safety recommendations and oversight at the local, state and federal levels.

The transit agency will also repair door control units on three series of its rail cars — about half the fleet — because they have been malfunctioning and allowing doors to open on the wrong side of the tracks when trains pull into the stations. The board approved $2.6 million to repair 546 rail cars.

Currently, door openings are controlled by the train operators because trains have been running in manual mode since the June crash. The repairs for the door controls are for automatic train operation.

The repairs are the result of three incidents in 2008 in which trains that were operating in automatic mode had the doors open on the wrong side of the tracks at station stops. Metro expects to complete the repairs in spring 2011.


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