As part of the fact-finding phase of its investigation into the Feb. 16, 1996, fatal MARC-Amtrak passenger train accident in Silver Spring, Md., the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will hold a public hearing this month in suburban Maryland.
NTSB Chairman Jim Hall will preside over the hearing, which is expected to last two-and-a-half days. The hearing begins at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, June 26 at the DoubleTree Hotel, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. (across the street from the Twinbrook Metro Red Line Station).
The accident occurred at 5:38 p.m., Friday, Feb. 16, when a MARC commuter train collided with Amtrak's Capitol Limited passenger train in Silver Spring, Md. The three MARC crew members and eight passengers in the first MARC car were killed. The MARC train was on a run from Brunswick, Md. to Washington's Union Station. The Amtrak train had departed Union Station on a trip to Chicago.
"The investigation into this tragic accident is very comprehensive because the scope of the issues and their potential nationwide applicability to commuter rail transportation," Hall said. "We will be asking probing questions about commuter rail safety issues that affect Washington-area commuters and millions of other Americans who use the rails to get to work and back home everyday."
During the hearing, witnesses to the accident and officials from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX), Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA), rail employee unions and other interested parties will provide testimony and answer questions on a wide range of rail safety issues.
Hall said the NTSB hearing will focus on several areas of local and national concern, including:
- Positive train separation and interim measures to achieve it.
- Safety standards and crashworthiness for rail passenger cars.
- Distraction of train crews and safety training.
- Signal system reliability.
- Oversight of commuter rail operations.
Other areas include maintenance of passenger car emergency exits, adequate emergency instructions and signage, and emergency response.
Shortly after the accident, the NTSB issued four "urgent" recommendations to upgrade rail passenger safety to the FRA and the MTA, which operates MARC.
On April 30, the NTSB elevated its passenger rail safety recommendations to its "Most Wanted" list of safety improvements. The Safety Board is urging the FRA to inspect all commuter rail equipment across the country, and under its jurisdiction, to determine if it has effective, easily-used and identifiable emergency evacuation exits and apparatus. If the cars lack satisfactory emergency features, the NTSB is urging the FRA to take immediate actions to correct the problems.
The investigation into the accident is ongoing. Assisting the NTSB in its investigation are the FRA, MTA, CSX, Amtrak, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, United Transportation Union and Montgomery County Emergency Services.