Theory of Increase of Brake Malfunctions on Metrorail

As most passengers have noticed there has been an increase in Metro train offloads due to either a brake malfunction or a door malfunction. I’ll give a theory on brakes.

About Metro Brakes:

There are two braking systems on Metro trains, the first is called dynamic braking and is the best description would be placing your car in a lower gear, then there are friction brakes which work similar to disc brakes in your car. Dynamic braking slows the train down to less than 5 MPH, at which point the friction bakes take over and bring the train to a stop.

Now there are two possibilities that could be causing the increase in brake problems; the first being mixing to railcar series, while every Metrorail car is build with the same design specifications, minor differences exist between the series and the rate at which the brakes apply will vary, especially in a train consisting of 4000 series cars in the middle (which is rare), since the 4000 series will change over between dynamic & friction at a higher speed than the other cars in the fleet. When the braking rates don’t match up the cars will in most instances jerk as the train comes to a stop. The solution to this is to create consists within the same series, which unless Metro changes its operational policy of bellying 1000 series, will not happen until at least 2016 at the earliest as the 1000 series begin to be phased out and the 7000 series come into service.

The other possibility is due to the operator whether its due to inexperience or poor train handling skills, the only solution to this is more training.

As a result the brakes will on occasion get stuck and  as the train moves the brake pads are heated in the same way that would occur if you had your parking brake engaged and drove on the highway, with an exception; sometimes at a certain point the brakes can lock in the fully engaged mode and the train is unable to move and rail car maintenance will have to arrive and override the braking system which requires all passengers to exit the train.

How Did the Smoke Enter L’Enfant Plaza on 1/12/15

There has been back & forth between DC Fire & EMS, & Metro as to the functionality of ventilation fans at L’Enfant Plaza on January 12, 2014.

Here’s the most likely explanation:

At 3:06 the power cable which transfers 750 volts from one third rail segment to another begins smoking and opens (or trips) the circuit breaker near 9th & Water Streets SW. This location is just prior to the Yellow line crossing under the Washington Channel, it’s also the location of both a ventilation shaft & emergency egress shaft, and it’s the location where the Yellow Line inbound track separates to cross under the Green Line to join up just south of L’Enfant Plaza.

Once the cables started smoking, at least two Yellow line trains traveling inbound toward Greenbelt passed through the area; now as most Metro passengers know when a train moves through a tunnel it pushes air ahead of it, and the tunnel just prior to the location has openings between both tracks to equalize airflow, therefore a train heading inbound could create a pressure wave that would push smoke on the outbound track back toward L’Enfant Plaza station.

Also after a train has passed there is a low pressure or vacuum created behind a train which would pull smoke behind it. So the combination of two Yellow Line trains passing the incident area would have moved smoked back toward L’Enfant Plaza while the vent fans which were activated at 3:16 would have in effect countered each other – Vent Fans pulling smoke to the south & train air currents pulling smoke to the north.

Also Metro continued to operate Blue, Orange, & silver Line trains through the lower level, and while not as strong the pressure and vacuum forces from these trains would have assisted in pulling the smoke into the station.

Had all train traffic been immediately halted the vent fans would have cleared the smoke quicker.

Recommendation to WMATA: 15-5 Upon notification of an open (tripped) circuit breaker anywhere on the mainline of metrorail operations, immediately suspend all rail traffic within the two nearest vent shafts/ tunnel portals, and activate exhaust fans, if a station is located between the two venting locations, contact all station managers to inspect the stations for any sign of smoke, also activate cameras to view toward the location of the tripped third rail, if smoke is observed immediately suspend ALL rail traffic including on different levels if at a transfer station and initiate bus bridges.. Dispatch either Metro Transit Police or have an offloaded train proceed through the area at a speed no greater than 15 MPH to inspect area for smoke and or fire.

Increased Service on WMATA after Washington Nationals home games

Would you consider paying a surcharge boarding at Navy Yard after a home game of the Nationals if you got the following:

  • Departures every three minutes from Navy Yard for the first 90 minutes following the final out of the game
  • Rush hour level service for the remainder of the system for two hours after the end of game
  • Direct service to Virginia from Navy Yard without transferring

Please complete the following poll and we’ll prepare an analysis based on the results and share with WMATA.

*Discovery Performance Analysis provides independent transportation analysis and oversight services to improve performance of operations *

September 30, 2014 Cracked Rail at Dupont Circle Response Analysis

At approximately 7:15 AM, on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 A crack was detected on the Red Line on Track 1, normally used for Glenmont trains between Woodley Park & Dupont Circle, service on Track 1 was suspended, and single track operations was initiated from the interlocking south of Van Ness – UDC to the interlocking north of Dupont Circle, using Track 2 for operations. Also selected trains were instructed to express through Woodley Park & Cleveland Park stations.

The delay lasted approximately 4 hours and was complete with crowded trains, poor communication & coordination. Some procedures that should have been implemented are as follows:

  • Implement a core train – running service from NoMa – Farragut North, using the pocket track at Farragut North and the lead track at Brentwood Yard to reverse trains
  • Continue to service Cleveland Park & Woodley Park stations; this simple decision to express trains past these two stations resulted in the largest amount of complaints and increased crowded conditions as passengers had to reverse back to their stations given poor public address systems or lack of communications.
  • Holding trains traveling in the peak passenger direction; In no case should trains carrying passengers inbound a) expressed through stations, b) Held for longer than 10 mins
  • Short turn trains that have already serviced the core of the system, select Glenmont bound trains could have been reversed at NoMa to help clear Union Station, also select Shady Grove bound trains could have been reversed at Van Ness.

Based on the performance displayed and procedures followed, it is the finding of our analysis that the primary cause of the massive delays was a combination of the cracked rail which was compounded by the failure of Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) controllers to properly manage the flow of rail traffic in respect to passenger flow during the duration of the incident.

The two recommendations are:

  • Require ROCC controllers to maintain an active and working knowledge or the territory they cover on a weekly or biweekly period.
  • During an incident that occurs during rush hour, controllers should attempt to maintain priority flow of traffic in the direction of peak traffic flow, as well as implementing constant core coverage to keep crowds as small as possible.

Metro to return to Automatic Train Operation beginning in mid-October 2014

Written by: Roger Bowles

Metro GM Richard Sarles has announced that Metrorail will begin a phased return to automatic train operation or ATO in mid October on the Red Line during off-peak hours with full-time automatic operation resuming approximately 6 months later.

Metro ended automatic operation immediately after the June 22, 2009 Fort Totten collision that claimed 9 lives. The accident was due to a failed track circuit which failed to communicate to one train that another was stopped on the track ahead of it.

My analysis of the accident is somewhat different from the NTSB report. First the accident would have occurred whether trains were operated in automatic or manual mode as the failure was in the track circuit and not in the equipment that operates the train. The track circuit job is to 1) detect the presence or absence of a train within a given section of track and 2) adjust the speed limit of other trains accordingly.

The train operator of train 214, the train that was struck was operated in manual mode (in violation of Metro procedure at the time) and lost speed commands when the train entered the defective track circuit and manually stopped the train quickly enough that the train remained within the defective circuit, and in effect “disappeared” to the system. Train 112 which was following and in automatic mode was informed electronically by speed commands that the track was clear ahead, now whether train 112 was in automatic or manual mode the operator would have operated based on the speed commands and only upon seeing the train engaged emergency braking which was done. Now had train 214 been in automatic mode there is a possibility the train would’ve stopped just inside the next circuit about 500 feet ahead of where the train stopped. This would’ve changed the speed commands to train 112 to begin slowing down, so that when the train ahead was visible there would’ve been slightly more room for braking to become effective thereby reducing the amount of damage and possibly injuries.

Since 2009 train operators have operated trains manually with the speed limits issued based on track circuits, so the only tangible difference is a rougher ride that places more wear & tear on train motors and brakes as well as causes delays in schedules.

Here’s an article from the Washington Post

My recommendation would be that ATO operation resume during non rush hours system wide starting in October with a six month period to focus on potential hot spots and focus on replacement operation when a hot spot is discovered. After a 90 trouble-free test period then begin rush hour service in ATO.

Over the next 60 days I will be randomly checking out the status of track circuits over the entire rail system.

*** Roger Bowles is the Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Performance Analysis, a transportation & business analysis company. Our transportation analysis service includes mass transit analysis and is publicly funded, to find out how to give email  ***

Solution to Blue Line Reduction in preparation of Silver Line opening

Attached is an analysis and recommendation to address the planned reduction of Blue Line service with the opening of the Silver Line on July 26, 2014. The basic conclusion reached is each individual line could have a train service stations every 8 minutes during rush hour.

WMATA Silver Line Solution

Note: This is an independent analysis that was NOT commissioned by WMATA or any of it’s subsidiaries.

What to really expect on Metrorail during heatwaves

Washington’s first heat wave of 2014 has arrived this week and it seemed a good time to explain what to expect on Metro trains in a clear straight to the point method.

First, let’s address the obvious that’s overlooked – Metro cars are constructed of aluminum (the new 7000s are made of stainless steel), with 14 large picture windows along the sides of the cars; also the majority of the rail systems terminals are above ground (Glenmont & Mt.Vernon Sq are the only exceptions) where the trains sit from 2-11 minutes with the doors open.

So here is how the Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is designed to keep the rail cars cool.

The target interior temperature range inside of the rail cars is 71-75 degrees while in operation. This range is measured toward the center of each car midway between each set of doors. During initial departure from terminals it isn’t uncommon for a train to take up to 15 minutes to cool to the target temperature.

If the outside temperature exceeds 95 degrees the HVAC system begins to strain to maintain the desired temperature. Between 95 & 105 degrees outside temperature the HVAC system tries to at best keep the interior of the cars 20 degrees below outside temperature. Above 105 and the ability to keep up a comfortable interior temperature decreases.

Finally, here is a simple way to check to see if the AC in your rail car is functioning: Place your hand near the vents on either side of the lights along the roof of the car you should feel cool air coming out… if not let the train operator know via the intercom at the end of each railcar along with the four digit car number located on the end doors as well as on the intercom, so that the train operator can have rail car maintenance attempt to reset the unit.





Recommended Improvements to WMATA Station Emergency announcements

An article posted on about an emergency announcement in the Shaw-Howard Univ station resulted in the following recommendations.

See the original article here

> Implement an loud (~100db) five second tone during an emergency evacuation, to be sounded prior to an evacuation alert.

> Program station lighting to flash concurrently with the tone to a) get the attention of passengers who may be distracted (headphones, etc); b) to alert hearing impaired passengers to the need to evacuate.

> If not already programmed to do so automatically have platform PIDS change to “EMERGENCY – EVACUATE STATION”

> Run monthly drills outside revenue hours to test the new features along with existing procedures – Faregates automatically opening and escalators reversing to exit direction.

Discovery Performance launches new Utility Bill Analysis service for individuals

March 24, 2014
Launch of Utility Bill Analysis for individuals
Washington, DC, March 24, 2014– Discovery Performance Transit & Business Analysis (DTBA) is launching its utility bill analysis service, in which we review individuals utility bills for potential errors, and look for possible solutions that are in the client’s best interests. Basic package includes reviewing utility bills either on a one time basis or on a regular monthly basis for errors. This can be a great benefit for those who have difficulty decoding utility bills, and/or don’t have the time to review their bills in great detail.
Utility bills we are currently reviewing (we will be adding more as we progress so feel free to ask about a service not listed):

  •  Electric
  •  Natural Gas
  •  Telecommunications

o Home Phone
o Cell Phone
o Cable / Internet

  •  Water

Rates for this service will be $25 per utility reviewed for single audits; recurring monthly clients receive a 20% discount ($20 per utility)
# # #
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Roger Bowles at 301.404.2120 or email at

032414 Release – Utility Analysis

Discovery Performance Changes Name & Business Direction

March 24, 2014
Name Change to Align With New Business Direction

Washington, DC, March 24, 2014– Discovery Performance Management & Analysis (DPMA) is changing its name to Discovery Performance Transit & Business Analysis (DTBA) to better reflect our transit analysis services becoming our primary business focus. Over the next several weeks you will notice our new logo (shown above) being phased in, as well as changes to our social media presence online.
A little about our Transit Analysis Division; we will focus on transit related concerns involving mass transit agencies such as Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA); Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA/MARC) and the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission (DCTC). This division is to be publicly supported by contributions and intends to work with agencies, government leaders, advocacy groups, as well as the riding public to improve transit operations as well as to increase the knowledge of transit operations for the public
# # #
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Roger Bowles at 301.404.2120 or email at

032414 Release – Name Change

Poll on #WMATA alerts provided by Discovery Performance Transit Analysis (Please Share & RT)

Recap of MWAA Mtg RE: WMATA Silver Line ( via Martin Di Caro )

This morning the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) held a meeting regarding the status of the Silver Line project to try and determine timeline for transfer to WMATA. I was unable to attend myself but below is a recap via WAMU 88.5 Transportation reporter Martin Di Caro

Metrorail Public Address Systems 101

This is an informational article in response to a request placed on Twitter earlier today (01/29/2014) by WUSA9’s Russ Ptacek on how audible announcements are on Metro trains.

First, in response to the question – announcements aboard trains being heard can vary wildly and due to various reasons. I’ll try to cover some of the most predominant ones passengers experience. First a quick overview of WMATA’s Public Address Systems aboard railcars.

From a basic electrical standpoint and design point of view the entire fleet is designed to be the same. However there are now 6 different series of rail cars (1000/2000/3000/4000/5000/6000) with the 7th (7000)*** just beginning to undergo testing in Greenbelt. And with each order or rehabilitation there’s a slight software upgrade that can cause minor technical issues. Overall the entire fleet is supposed to be compatible and for the most part it is. However, here are some of the top reasons passengers can’t hear announcements. (And this is from 20-plus years of observing WMATA rail operations)

  • Operator doesn’t make announcements: Sadly this is the most obvious one, I’ve observed train operators that just flat-out for whatever reason do not make any announcements.
  • Operator announcements are garbled: This could be the result of a two-fold problem, the operator not clearly enunciating or an electrical issue (discussed below) causing the transmission to become garbled.
  • Public Address volume is turned down in one of the rail cars: This is usually an oversight that goes unnoticed. Either in the lead car or sometimes one of the trailing cars in the train will have the volume turned down so while passengers in cars 1,2,3,4 can hear crystal clearly passengers in 5, and 6 hear nothing.
  • Mixing of series: This has caused multiple problems in the past (most recently the emergency intercom failure) While the entire fleet is designed to be compatible, when a train is made up from up to 4 different orders there are bound to be electrical issues. This reason I believe is the cause of the majority of issues with poor PA operations, followed by train operator not making the announcements. This is more prevalent since the 2009 collision where the 1000 series were “bellied” in the middle of trains. Basic setup is the 1000 series originally built-in the mid to late 70s and rehabilitated in the early 90s have one design; the 2000/3000/ and 6000 series for basic terms share the same design (the 2000 & 3000 series though ordered in the early 80s were rehabilitated by Alstom, the same manufacturer of the 6000 series; the 4000 series, ordered in the late 80s & early 90s are on a different design as are the 5000 series. When you mix these series several things can happen most noticeable being lack of a PA and the next station stop (NSS) signs not functioning correctly.

Side note: Out of Metro’s 1100 rail cars in service all except 100 (4000 series) contain exterior speakers to make announcements audible to passengers on the platform

Train Operators are supposed to do a PA check at the very start of service (when the train is leaving the yard) however operators change trains during their shifts and failures occur. There is currently no procedure of checking the PA of a train as it prepares to depart a terminal station, therefore a train operator would not be aware that a car wasn’t broadcasting or broadcasting poorly unless he was informed of it, and the best way of that is for someone to physically walk the length of the train through various stops (6-8) and hear the announcements.

Now I’ll finish up with the seriousness of a failure in the public address system. If one of the above reasons causes the public address system not to work as it is intended the it could become a safety and operational concern.

  • Trains that are short turned (ex. Silver Spring & Mt. Vernon Sq) need to be offloaded to reverse in what’s known as a pocket track. No functional PA some passengers won’t know to exit and will miss the following train to take them where they need to go.
  • Mechanical failure requiring the train being offloaded, This almost all if not all of us have experienced, for whatever reason a train can no longer remain in service and passengers must clear the train in order for it to move to the nearest yard. No functional PA means passengers might still be sitting unaware and thus increasing delays back down the line.
  • Emergency situation: This is obvious the single most serious concern; In the event of an emergency where immediate action is needed a non functioning PA could endanger passengers lives, simple as that no examples are needed for this one.

Recommended Interim Action: Designate the first 8 stations from terminals as PA check stops, An rail transportation employee (supervisor, operator, car equipment, transit police) boards the lead car at the terminal and proceeds to change cars back for the first 8 stations to listen to the PA system. At the 8th station the employee reports findings to the train operator and performs the same task on a train heading back in the opposite direction.

Possible alternate solution: Create a repeating message directly tied to the PA system that repeats every 30-45 seconds such as “Welcome aboard Metrorail” “The time is XX:XX” This would allow an operator at the terminal to walk the train, inspect it and listen for the announcement, this could be incorporated into the departure checklist”

***End Note: The 7000 series will have automated announcements programmed and with the fact that this series is designed to run only within its own series (except in emergencies), the 7000s should be the most reliable as they enter the fleet


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 235 other followers

%d bloggers like this: