A key circuit on the train track near Monday's derailment in Washington, D.C., was apparently not operating as it should have been, raising the possibility that the Metro train that crashed into another one may not have known to slow down, accident investigators said today.
Investigators tested six circuits between the two stations where the crash occurred. Five of those performed as expected, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigator Deborah Hersman. Such circuits let trains know how fast to go and provide them with information about whether there's another train up ahead.
But one circuit showed what Hersman described as an "anomaly" and monitored a 740-foot section of the track. Investigators are putting a stand-in train on the track tonight to conduct additional tests.
The NTSB also said it has now looked at train records and found no indications of overdue maintenance despite earlier reports that the brakes on the train may have been behind schedule for a check-up. The train was last examined in late May.
Nine people died and another 76 were taken to area hospitals when one Metro train struck a stopped train in front of it near the Fort Totten station on the city's red line. The train that was struck was pushed forward about seven feet, Hersman said today.
"We do have an independent train system ... [but] let's not try and disperse the blame. Let's put it on the decision makers and the leaders," Fenty said on "Good Morning America".
Fenty said that while replacing or retrofitting the cars "to make them more crash resistant" would have been expensive, "lives are more important than finances."
Fenty's comments came as the NTSB learned that the operator of the D.C. Metro train that crashed into a stopped train ahead of it likely hit the emergency brake before the impact. Hersman said this afternoon it appears the operator applied the braked 300 to 400 feet prior to the crash site. NTSB investigators at the scene today found "bluing" on the track, indicating braking prior to the collision. They do not yet know how fast the train was going when it collided with the other, but said they will, at some point, be able to ascertain that information.
The train operator, 42-year-old Jeanice McMillan, who had been on the job for four months, was among those killed in Monday's crash.
Investigators were able to determine that the train was running on automatic mode at the time of the crash and are investigating why built-in safety features of that system did not prevent the crash. The track circuits are a critical part of the automatic train control system.
Officials said Metro trains travel above sensors along the rail that can automatically detect when trains are getting too close to one another. The computerized system is designed to stop them from coming within 1,200 feet of each other.