MARC plans improvements in emergency exit system February rail crash leads to safety changes

June 12, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

~TC Maryland transportation officials said yesterday they will turn more train windows into emergency exits and take other steps to improve rail safety in the wake of a fatal crash in February.

Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) workers have inspected all emergency exit windows, replacing defective ones, and will equip dozens of other windows for emergency use by February, said John A. Agro, administrator of the Mass Transit Administration.

The measures are in response to the Feb. 16 crash of Amtrak and MARC trains in Silver Spring that killed 11 people on the MARC train.

Victims reportedly had difficulty getting out of the burning MARC car. The state has pledged a $6.5 million upgrade of emergency window exits and doors on government-owned cars.

"Every [accessible] window will become an emergency exit," Agro told the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Federal Relations in Annapolis yesterday.

MARC also is in the process of designing new door release handles and making existing emergency release levers easier to use. Officials plan to install larger signs that glow in the dark to mark emergency exits. Agro said some existing signs may have been too small.

Some improvements and inspections initiated by the state exceed federal requirements. "We believe this will be setting a new standard for the industry," Agro said.

In response to a federal order issued four days after the crash, the MTA submitted a safety plan to the Federal Railroad Administration on April 5. The state has not received a response to the plan.

The wreck also raised questions about the push-pull mode of operating commuter trains.

The victims in the crash were occupying a cab car in the front of the train where an engineer controlled a locomotive pushing from the rear. That design made forward passengers more vulnerable than if they had been behind an engine.

The Federal Railroad Administration continues to review that issue, Agro said. In the meantime, MARC trains are allowing passengers who do not want to ride in the front car to enter another one.

At the meeting, three members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers complained of brake failures and problems with the signal system on rail lines in Maryland.

"We don't believe the FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] is following up on our reports," said Robert L. Minnick of Brotherhood Division 181.

But Philip Olekszyk, the FRA's deputy associate administrator for safety, said federal officials investigate every safety complaint by union members and the public.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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