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Daily Archives: June 25, 2009

Watchdog warned of weaknesses

 Safety watchdogs warned Washington's metro operators three years ago about weaknesses in aging subway cars like the one involved in a collision that killed nine people Monday, investigators said.
National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said Tuesday the US capital's subway system was told in 2006 that the carriage in its 1000-series trains was likely to crumple in the event of an impact.
The possible effects of that danger were seen in the mangled wreckage of two commuter trains, which crashed during the city's busy Monday evening rush hour killing nine and injuring some 80 others.
"We made recommendations in 2006 about the crash-worthiness of the 1000-series cars," Hersman told reporters at the scene of the crash. "We recommended […] to either retrofit those cars or phase them out of the fleet."
Hersman said that did not happen.
The 2006 report said the 1000-series was "vulnerable to catastrophic telescoping damage and complete loss of occupant survival space."
The NTSB scoured the wreckage Tuesday hunting for clues to the worst subway accident in the history of the system, which carries 800,000 people daily through Washington and nearby suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.
Metro officials said they still had no clue as to why one train – thought to be one of the oldest on the 33-year-old network – plowed into the back of a stationary one on an above-ground section of the system's Red Line.
Hersman noted that the lead car of the moving train was severely compressed by the impact, with "50 feet of that 75 feet (15 of 23 meters)… of survivable space lost or compromised, and so that's very significant."
The federal agency that has taken over the crash investigation also said the moving train's operator, 42-year-old Jeanice McMillan, who died in the crash, had been driving the system's trains for just three months, after about six weeks of training.
Preliminary investigations found that the striking train was in "automatic mode" and that the emergency brake had been depressed, indicating McMillan may have tried to stop the train before the fatal collision, Hersman said.
Hersman said the NTSB had formally requested access to McMillan's mobile phone records but stressed that that was "not a specific area we are singling out."
Last September, 25 people were killed when the conductor of a commuter train in Los Angeles was sending text messages on his mobile phone while at the controls.

US, Russia resume nuclear arms reduction talks

US and Russian negotiators resumed talks in Geneva on cutting their nuclear arsenals yesterday, in their last scheduled meeting before a summit between their presidents next month.
The two sides continued their third formal round of negotiations on replacing the Cold War era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) at the US mission in the Swiss city, diplomats said.
"The talks today have started," a US official said.
The talks have been shrouded in secrecy, but the United States yesterday pointed to progress in the negotiations.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly recalled that both US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, who meet early next month in Moscow, want "significant reductions" in their nuclear weapons arsenals.
"That's what each […] country is working towards. I think that we've made progress in the talks that we've […] had so far," Kelly told reporters in Washington without elaborating.
The attempt to strike a new deal to succeed START, which expires on December 5, is regarded as a key foundation in rebuilding US-Russian relations that deteriorated in the final stages of President George W. Bush's administration.
Russia has welcomed the talks as "constructive".
But Medvedev reiterated last week that further nuclear arms reductions could only come about if Washington addressed Moscow's "concerns" about deployment of the US missile defence shield in ex-Soviet states in eastern Europe.
"In every case, the issue of the connection between strategic offensive and defensive weapons must be definitely fixed in any agreement," he added.
Kelly played down those differences.
"We don't make the linkage. We've heard what […] the Russian side has said," Kelly added.
"This is something that I believe will be worked out between the two sides," Kelly said when asked if the differences represented an impediment before the summit.
"I do believe that we will reach the goal that the two presidents have set for themselves," said Kelly.