Image from SP8254 on Flickr.

The Federal Transit Administration came down hard on WMATA today, deeming the agency deficient in both how it manages itself on the whole and, more specifically, how it operates its trains and buses. As a result, WMATA will need to make some serious changes, and fast.

System-wide, FTA inspectors cited 54 overall safety violations: 44 for Metrorail and 10 for Metrobus. The deficiencies come despite efforts to step up the agency-wide commitment to safety that followed the fatal 2009 Red Line crash at Fort Totten.

Chief among the problem areas is that Metrorail’s Rail Operations Control Center is both understaffed and doing a poor job of immediately fixing safety hazards as well as managing routine maintenance projects.

Other issues include:

  • The Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) is understaffed.
  • Rail Traffic Controllers have not been regularly recertified/retrained as required.
  • The ROCC has a high level of noise and distraction.
  • Radio discipline is poor.
  • ROCC lacks formal procedures, manuals, and checklists.
  • Rail Traffic Controllers use their cell phones while on duty.
  • WMATA faces challenges in hiring and training qualified Controllers.
  • Rail Traffic Controller training is inadequate.
  • Accident investigations do not look at the ROCC’s actions, just those of the train operator.
  • Radio coverage remains poor in some areas.
  • There is not enough time for maintenance during overnight hours.
  • WMATA has reduced trackwork windows to cut back on customer dissatisfaction.
  • The lack of trackwork time is contributing to a backlog of maintenance.
  • Track worker protection training is not occurring as required.
  • WMATA doesn’t have a strategy for emergency response training.
  • Rules compliance checks are not performed often enough or with regularity as required.
  • Not all issues with the ATC (signal) system are being communicated to maintenance.
  • The ATC department is understaffed.
  • Critical parts are not always kept in stock.
  • Not enough is being done to reduce fire/smoke issues in tunnels.

What WMATA’s got to do

As a result of the findings the FTA is issuing a safety directive to WMATA that outlines how to fix each violation and requests updates to the 2016 budget to account for funding the necessary changes.

Also, in line with a recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board that followed January’s Yellow Line tragedy,  State Safety Oversight Agencies will inspect Metro’s tunnel ventilation systems, and the FTA will give WMATA further instruction based on the findings.

WMATA has 30 days to respond to the report with additional information. During this time, WMATA may suggest equivalent, alternative actions. Within 31 to 90 days of the report, WMATA must submit a plan for taking action.

Starting immediately, WMATA and FTA leaders will meet monthly until the FTA determines the meetings are no longer necessary or can be less frequent.

 

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Jonathan Neeley was Greater Greater Washington's staff editor from 2014-2017. He gets most everywhere by bike (or Metro when it's super nasty out), thinks the way planning decisions shape our lives is fascinating, and plays a whole lot of ultimate. He lives in Brookland.