Why I'll still ride Metro

The shock of seeing a Metro train, flayed, mangled, and resting on top of another train, really got to me yesterday. Mentally, I put myself on that train car. I often get on the first car at Silver Spring station, and while it would be rare for me to be going in that direction at that time on a weekday, I still couldn't help but think, that could have been me.

There was a period of time where my gut reaction was, maybe I shouldn't ride Metro. Maybe I should avoid the risk, so I'm not the one on the front car the next time this happens. But then I started doing the math. 12 passenger deaths in the history of Metro, in a system that carries 700,000 people on a normal weekday.

Compare that to driving. From 2002 to 2005, there were 79 driver deaths per million registered vehicle owners. If we held Metro to the same level we held our cars, double-digit deaths every year would be acceptable.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think they're acceptable. I think what happened yesterday was a horrible tragedy, made even more horrible by evidence that there were things WMATA might have been able to do to prevent it, or at least make an impact safer. I'm sad for all of the families whose loved ones didn't make it home, and for all those lives cut short on what should have been an ordinary trip. I hope that the systems that failed to cause this accident are discovered, and that we hold WMATA accountable for fixing them, including giving it the necessary funding.

But unlike a car, multiple systems had to fail in order for this to happen. Between the automatic system that runs the train, the collision-prevention system, the driver with the ability to hit the emergency brake, and the brakes themselves, we'll probably learn in the coming weeks that more than one of these things failed. When your tire blows out on the beltway during rush hour traffic, that's one fragile system failing, and suddenly you and everyone else around you is at risk.

It's been a difficult, sad month for Washington D.C. First the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, and now this shocking accident on our subway system. I wonder how these things will impact those thinking about visiting. I think back to the beautiful vibe that filled the city during Inauguration, and how much our visitors clearly enjoyed themselves, and I wonder what we will need to do to get that back.

The summer after I moved here, my parents brought my grandfather out to visit. He wanted to see the World War II memorial, and he did, but I think he got the most visible enjoyment out of riding the Metro.

I forget about that now, what a thrill it is to ride Metro.

I'm an Ohio native, and grew up firmly grounded in suburban car culture. When I moved here, I felt a downright emotional reaction — a tightening of the throat — at the site of those big vaulted stations, the angular silver trains whisking you underground to museums, monuments, neighborhoods.

I grew jaded, like most who live here do. I began to appreicate the transit system because it allowed me to use my car increasingly less. Metrorail and Metrobus became more about the freedom of moving around the metropolitan area without the anchor of a car. But every once and awhile, I still look up at the curve of the ceiling, and listen to the whine of the train coming into the station, and think, I am underground, and I am going somewhere.

Yesterday's accident rattled my comfort in doing that. It may have rattled some locals, and tourists, completely out of taking Metro. And that's a piece of this tragedy, too.

I hope we see reforms, so this never happens again. But I also hope we remember that it's still safer than the alternative, and I hope we can find a way back to a city where there's more thrill than fear in riding the subway.

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