Problems in Washington DC Metro Safety System Missed Before 2009 Deadly Crash

Lack of Safety Culture Evident

2 min read
Problems in Washington DC Metro Safety System Missed Before 2009 Deadly Crash

Overshadowed by the congressional hearings into the Toyota runaway car issue, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began the first of three days of hearings yesterday on the the June 2009 DC Metrocrash that killed nine and injured scores more.

Testimony by Metro's assistant chief engineer disclosed that there were at least two previous instances of "failures of the automatic train protection system" before the crash, said a story in today's Washington Post.

The Metro engineer said that in 2005 and in early 2009 Metro trains had come close to colliding. Equipment had been replaced after the 2005 incident, but he said that neither Metro nor the manufacturer of the equipment is "absolutely convinced" that the source of the problem in the automatic safety system was identified.

Up until this time, Metro officials had said that these two incidents and the train crash last year were unrelated.

The testimony also highlighted the numerous safety problems that have plagued Metro, especially over the past couple of years. It is clear that safety, while publicly portrayed as an important priority, is not treated as one.

The Post article, for instance, said that NTSB hearing Chairman Robert Sumwalt asked the new Metro board Chair Peter Benjamin why Metro's governing board lists oversight of funding and expansion among its core duties in the agency's official procedures but does not include safety?

The answer was less than satisfying. According to the Post,

"Benjamin agreed that the description should have included safety but said that board members rely on managers to bring exceptional concerns to their attention because of the large number of safety issues the agency faces every day."

Huh? There are so many "routine" safety issues that safety is not among the Metro Board's core duties, and only rises to their attention when it becomes an exceptional safety event?

Funding is a constant problem at Metro as well; so why is that considered a core duty?

The Post also reported that Metro Acting Deputy General Manager David Kubicek blamed the safety problems all on a few individuals - the classic management cop out to avoid any responsibility or accountability.

The hearings continue today.

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An IBM Quantum Computer Will Soon Pass the 1,000-Qubit Mark

The Condor processor is just one quantum-computing advance slated for 2023

4 min read
This photo shows a woman working on a piece of apparatus that is suspended from the ceiling of the laboratory.

A researcher at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center examines some of the quantum hardware being constructed there.

Connie Zhou/IBM

IBM’s Condor, the world’s first universal quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits, is set to debut in 2023. The year is also expected to see IBM launch Heron, the first of a new flock of modular quantum processors that the company says may help it produce quantum computers with more than 4,000 qubits by 2025.

This article is part of our special report Top Tech 2023.

While quantum computers can, in theory, quickly find answers to problems that classical computers would take eons to solve, today’s quantum hardware is still short on qubits, limiting its usefulness. Entanglement and other quantum states necessary for quantum computation are infamously fragile, being susceptible to heat and other disturbances, which makes scaling up the number of qubits a huge technical challenge.

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