Metro to bring back automatic train operation after 14 years

After suspending automatic train operations in 2009 after a fatal Red Line crash, Metro is planning to switch back to automatic train operation starting this summer. 

In a presentation for a board meeting this week

Prior to 2009, the Metro operated with ATO from the day it opened in 1976. After a Red Line crash at the Fort Totten station that killed nine people, Metro suspended ATO and switched to manual operation. 

But Metro was designed to operate in automatic mode with a train operator – as do train lines in other major metropolitan areas like San Francisco, Atlanta and London.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission says that ATO leads to increased reliability and safety by allowing operators to focus on door closings as opposed to stopping and starting the train. 

"As part of our oversight of Metrorail’s safety certification work regarding automatic train operation and automatic door operation, the WMSC communicates regularly with Metrorail regarding specific safety issues. This includes questions related to areas such as Metrorail’s potential timelines, testing, training development and implementation, roadway worker protection, and technology adjustments, and other intensive work needed for Metrorail to ensure the preparedness of not only the physical systems but also the Metrorail organization as a whole to safely operate using automatic train operation or automatic door operation," the commission said in a statement.