Image from the FTA inspection reports. 

Metro continues to deal with defects that remove tracks from service, and the agency is still working to get rid of standing mud and water from its tracks, according to new inspection reports released by the Federal Transit Administration. The report shows 1,095 of 3,364 defects which FTA inspectors identified since 2015 remain unresolved through May 4, 2018.

FTA inspectors continue to perform routine and unannounced inspections of Metro facilities since the agency took over oversight in October 2015. Safety oversight will become the responsibility of the Metrorail Safety Commission which Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia are responsible to get up and running. The new agency, in the beginning stages of hiring its staff of 17, will hopefully be ready to take over later this year.

Image from the FTA inspection reports. 

In the latest reports covering December 2017 through February 2018, inspectors warned dozens of the orange power connector “boots” located in rail yards needed new watertight seals to keep water away from high-voltage electrical cables. Metro began replacing these orange “boots” system-wide after the January 12, 2015 smoke incident where an electrical fire outside of L’Enfant Plaza led to the death of a passenger from smoke inhalation.

Inspectors found approximately 15 orange boots in Alexandria Yard and 24 in West Falls Church Yard that need new watertight seals. Both of these locations are above ground and pose less of a safety risk than underground, and neither are on revenue tracks used by passengers.

Several level “black” track defects were found by inspectors, both in rail yards and on revenue track, which required immediate repairs. Tracks were found wider than specified in at least seven locations in rail yards, one outside Deanwood, and one near Judiciary Square. Two additional black defects outside Stadium Armory were classified as ‘red’ maintenance defects, meaning no speed restriction was installed to slow trains.

Metro’s tracks are designed to be four feet, eight and 1/4 inches wide. If left untreated, wide tracks can potentially lead to a train derailment. Crews are able to install gauge rods, which hold the tracks in place, as a temporary measure to give crews time to schedule more permanent repairs.

Image from the FTA inspection reports. 

Metro also continues to deal with standing water and clogged drains, according to the reports. Inspectors noted numerous locations on the Red Line where they found these plus tunnel leaks, which they assigned to Metro to fix.

One of the six programs making up Metro’s Preventative Maintenance program includes trackbed cleaning and clearing up drains, reducing standing water, and removing debris. The reports note that Metro has made progress in unclogging drains and removing mud which had been previously found, but inspectors are still finding and reporting new issue areas.

Standing water and wet tunnel environments can shorten the lifespan of tracks by causing rust or corrosion. Water’s conductive properties can also increase the risks of things like arcing insulators and stud bolt fires.

An item unrelated to the tracks, but which inspectors found numerous issues with, are elevator inspection certificates. FTA inspectors noted that at least 17 elevators in several stations in Maryland including Greenbelt, Largo, College Park, and Fort Totten had expired certificates, and that valid ones were not available.

A valid elevator certificate indicates that it passed inspection and is in working order for passenger use.

Other recurring issues found during the three months of inspections include blue emergency trip station lights out of service, missing third rail coverboards, and trains which didn’t slow down to 10 mph when passing track personnel. Metro is working on their Corrective Action Plan to ensure the speed of trains and the safety of track workers.

Metro Reasons is a regular breaking news, investigative reporting, and analysis column by Stephen Repetski about everything Metro. Please send tips to Metro Reasons.

Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.