Monday, April 25, 2016

The Metro Debacle

The mass transit system in Washington D.C. is a nice modern system. It opened 40 years ago. I vaguely remember the news. But they've already run it into the ground, which is kind of a spectacular failure, considering that NYC and Chicago have much older and bigger systems that somehow seem safer.

How could it be?
Ineptitude in DC?

Well, yeah. Apparently it's a multilayer failure. My favorite part was a trust in automation as a way to guarantee safety, resulting in things like this:

"On Jan. 6, 1996, a train under computer control was barreling too fast, at 75 mph, in a blizzard. Unable to decelerate quickly enough on snow-covered rails near the Shady Grove station, the train slammed into a parked, unoccupied train, killing the operator."

It's really unfair to call the victim "the operator", since the train was under control of an operating system, not an operator, apparently. Or... maybe the operator could have thrown a switch and taken control? But the story doesn't mention that.

Anyway, the people in charge neglected maintenance, neglected safety, neglected financial trouble, and somehow thought they could muddle through.

Management that was highly bureaucratic,
hoped the system would run on automatic.

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