You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!

Is Dr. Gridlock actually Dr. Strangelove?  He’s got a post up documenting the hearings going on right now on Capitol Hill, and not the ones dealing with potential Supreme Court justices.  The whole thing is full of colorful Cold War language:

The term entered the common language during the Cold War when Eugene Burdick wrote an arms-race thriller called “Fail-Safe.” The scenario seems dated now: To the stunned surprise of controllers, U.S. nuclear bombers move past the point at which they’re supposed to stop. But it’s still a ripper, because of the well-known principle the 1962 novel illustrated: If something can go wrong, eventually it will. Nothing built by humans is “Fail-Safe.”

The NTSB has already made their hypothesis known – that a glitch in the ATO system allowed the collision, even while operating in automatic mode.   What seems to have happened was a breakdown in the system where there was no redundancy – the failure of one system made it possible for the entire system to fail.

Dr. Gridlock continues with the Cold War imagery:

Metro’s operations control center isn’t as impressive as the Strategic Air Command’s headquarters, with its towering maps and flashing lights, but it’s basically the same function: Redundant protections are supposed to make the train system fail-safe. But ultimately, humans are making sure the equipment is going where it’s supposed to go.

On June 22, a fail-safe system failed to prevent the fatal crash of two Metrorail trains on Washington’s Red Line. And the National Transportation Safety Board told us on Monday that we have no system in place to ensure that this won’t happen again.

On a complete side note, I’ve always envisioned the operations center for Metro or any other large transit system to be like NORAD from WarGames or other Cold War movies.

(NORAD as depicted in WarGames – from PC Museum)

It’s the kind of place where all the super secret information is displayed.  You can’t let outsiders in there because they’ll see the big board!

Given Metro’s stark architecture and generous use of concrete, it’s not hard to envision a Kubrick-esque control room, complete with all the black and white imagery.

Joking aside, the substantive points from Dr. Gridlock’s post are that trains will be operating on manual for the foreseeable future.  The NTSB’s recommendation is the installation of a redundant train control system.  Such an installation would need to be specially designed for Metro, and obviously won’t be coming online in any short timeframe.

He also hits on one vitally important point – Metro is still the safest way to travel in DC.  It’s important not to forget that.


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