City Desk

Fenty Presser Liveblog

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty: Expresses deepest condolences, as is standard practice to start these briefings.

Confirms nine fatalities, the final count. "As a government and as a city" there are only four people whose identities have been confirmed.

Three of the four are residents of the District of Columbia. One lived in Hyattsville. Fenty contacted three of the four families personally. Says can't imagine the "horror and disbelief" of the families.

Fire department has completed its work as the lead agency. Debbie Hersman and the NTSB will now become the lead agency in this matter. Fenty thanks the feds for making all kinds of resources available.

Next up at the mic is D.C. fire Chief Dennis Rubin. He says that fire and EMS and various agencies have done an "absolutely incredible job" of doing their thing. Highlights—timeline begins at 5 pm, had units on location within six minutes. "Obvious this was going to be a major national event." Then they did coordination with inbound agencies. First injury person was transported 21 minutes later; last person was transported 6 hours and 51 minutes later.

Command was transferred at 1 pm. Fifty-one people that fire department treated.

"We've been busy," says Rubin, noting that there've been other fire events over this period.

Rubin, on an editorial comment here, handles himself pretty well in these moments. He has stumbled in a lot of ways since taking over the fire department but does well in front of the press.

Fenty back at the mic, saying that a grand total of eight of the nine fatalities have been identified. Two of them were David F. Wherley, Jr., former commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters, District of Columbia National Guard, and his wife Ann. Fenty said of David F. Wherley: "As fine a public servant, dedicated to the United States of America" as you'll ever find. Military is in "complete shock," says Fenty.

Now it's Metro General Manager John B. Catoe on the spot: He's saying mostly procedural stuff, talking about handing over all information to NTSB and thanking fire department for quick response. Not much here.

Now it's Jim Graham, talking about the 2 pm meeting today. He's saying there'll be another meeting Thursday. First specific action is that there's an amergency hardship relief fund and dedicated $250,000 to the kitty. It's for responding to immediate human needs. Graham says that it's not about a settlement. Will be "refining" this matter in the coming days. Also, statement: We are aggressively seeking to replace the 1000-series rail cars, which were purchased between 1974 and 1978. Also calling on the feds to make good on the commitment of $150 million per year for capital expenditures. Capital needs remain substantial, high hopes that in FY '10 budget the feds keep up funding.

Up now is Debbie Hersman, who has been easily the most interesting and informative speaker at these events. Hersman expresses condolences, sends out prayers to those who remain hospitalized. Nineteen NTSB personnel are on the case trying to determine what caused the accident.

Hersman now going into some thank-you moments for other instrumentalities that have been doing a "great job" and so on. Standard bureaucratic stuff here.

Teams have been out today collecting evidence. Summary of the work here: Track group, working closely with FBI, checking locations of the track, equipment, damage to the equipment. They're seeking an outline of what the crash looked like.

Hersman says the crash occurred on a curve, not a straightaway. It's a one-degree curve. Track speed limited to 59 mph. Feds are working to determine exact point of derailment. Once they're able to move the trains, they may be able to determine exact location of derailment.

Team is working to preserve records and collect perishable evidence. Majority of our team has been out on scene putting information together. Will need time to go through those records. Operation of the train—documentation of some of the control surfaces....now she's talking about stuff that I have no idea about, something about a dial, toggle switch in the on position. All relates to whether it was in automatic mode or manual mode—OK, I get that.

Toggle switch, dial and master controller confirm to NTSB that the train was in automatic mode. Hersman addresses braking issues—emergency mushroom was found in a depressed condition—it was pressed in. The "mushroom" she's talking about here must be the little switchy thing that hits the emergency brake.

Have conducted some interviews and Metro's ops center about the striking train's operator. The original hire date was January of '07. Was hired as a bus driver. She started training as a train operator in January '09 and started driving in March '09.

Hersman is going to be seeking all kinds of documents on the operator's employment history as well as the "72-hour history," to see whether the operator had sufficient rest-work balance. Will be looking for those records. Toxicology samples have been taken on the train operator and have been sent off for analysis.

Standing train—looking to see if there is usable data on the recorders. Pulling apart the married pair of the trains. WMATA is going to bring in a flatbed to pull stuff apart.

Striking train—Train 112—they're looking at the lead car, which sustained extensive damage. Fifty feet of the 75 feet in that car were lost to the accident. That is, two-thirds of the survivable space was gone because of the impact.

Cars and their age: Average age of Metro fleet is 19.3 years old. How compare to other transit operations: Metro ranks 6th among 15 transit agencies in terms of car age. 1000-series cars comprise 300 cars of Metro's 1115-car fleet.

Now she's going into all the other series, and I've totally lost her. 192, 50000, 2 million, whatever. We'll get those details later.

Accident sequence: There was a train at Ft. Totten. Were servicing the platform. The struck train was waiting on the tracks as a result. The striking train—there was a report that there was an announcement that there was a train ahead and then the striking train started again. Looking into that, says Hersman.

Know that the community is anxious to get service back. Track is safe.

Hersman appreciates support from city and other people too. Including Sal Army, which has helped with water and stuff. Also appreciates people in the neighborhood. Look forward to wrapping up this part of the investigation.

Now taking questions:

Question is about trains reported two months past due on brake service.

Hersman has seen reports to that effect and will review records. Interested in looking at those records, but interested in looking at all of those records. Just in first 24 hours of investigation.

Question: What implications of the aging of the fleet has to the rest of the system.

Hersman says agency has no position on that. Will work closely with WMATA if NTSB finds something that is an acute safety problem.

Question: Is the location of the fatalities and whether they were in the striking or struck car.

Hersman says it's premature to comment on that.

Question: NTSB's request for texting records and the like.

Hersman says hard to say. Not really sure exactly what the point is on this question, though Hersman is saying that operators of vehicles and the like should not be texting or talking on cell phones and the like.

Question: Missed it.

Hersman is responding to the question, but I don't know what the question was, so can't really figure out what to type here.

Question: What OCC might have seen displayed about the location and position of the trains in the system.

Hersman says hasn't gotten with her people on this just yet. Says they will provide additional factual information when it's available.

Fenty now back in front, celebrating the accomplishments of the first responders to this calamity. Talks about the "heroic job" of all these responders. Fenty is not so great in situations like this. Nor is he terrible. He just doesn't project the image of a feeling person. A bit robotic. He gets all the information out there, so that's good. He covers all the bases like a good mayor, including crediting the front-line workers and nodding to the feds and other agencies that have assisted.

HOWEVER: When it comes to shifting to a higher civic and emotional gear, Fenty just doesn't have the equipment to go there.

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