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Electric fault, oversight blamed in DC subway crash

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Safety investigators on Tuesday blamed a 2009 Washington, D.C. subway crash that killed nine people on faulty track electronics but also said the region's transit agency lacked a safety culture.

"The layers of safety deficiencies uncovered during the course of this investigation are troubling and reveal a systematic breakdown of safety management at all levels," said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman.

The scathing report also put the U.S. government on notice for allowing local transit agencies in the United States to operate without federal safety oversight -- unlike the airline and railroad transport sectors.

The two-train collision on June 22 last year occurred on the system's heavily used Red Line that services Maryland. Nine people were killed and dozens of others were hurt.

Investigators blamed the crash on a circuit failure in a track-based system designed to automatically keep trains at a safe distance from one another.

The NTSB found that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) failed to ensure systemwide use of a circuit test that was developed after a previous incident in Virginia. Investigators said the test, had it been used, would have detected the electrical fault before the 2009 accident.

The safety board also said the transit agency failed to replace or retrofit the type of older model rail cars involved in the accident after their crash-worthiness was questioned following previous accidents. This, investigators said, contributed to the number of fatalities and to the severity of injuries.

The agency said in response that it has "taken dozens of actions" in the past year to improve safety and will "carefully consider" the safety board's findings and recommendations.

The system no longer relies on electronic circuitry to separate trains and the transit authority plans to purchase new rail cars to replace the models cited by the NTSB.

(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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