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Manufacturer modifying Metro 7K rail cars after electric shock incident

Rail car part deteriorating prematurely, Metro official says

metro logoA component in Metro’s newest rail car series is breaking prematurely, and their manufacturer has designed a modification to fix it, Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel said Thursday.

A mechanic reported he suffered electrical shock while he was inspecting part of the underside of the 7000 series rail car at West Falls Church Rail Yard on Sunday, Stessel confirmed. This was related to the deteriorating rail car part, the ground brush. However, he suffered no serious injury. The mechanic said he did not want medical attention. However, Metro staff took him to a local hospital.

Stessel confirmed a problem is developing with the 7000 series trains, the newest in the Metrorail fleet.

“Yes, there were defective wires, there was a problem within the ground brush assembly itself and that problem is mitigated by the safety bulletin we put out,” Stessel said.

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Spare Part Woes

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Third in a series)

FTA concerned with the latest in Metrorail’s budget problems

Metro entranceA problem with spare parts finds The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority once again in trouble with the Federal Transportation Administration.

Metro is now accused of dodging FTA procurement regulations.

According to the proposed FY2018 budget, WMATA charged $23 million in railcars to the operating budget because Metro managers were having difficulty complying with FTA requirements. Those funds apparently should have been charged to the capital budget.

According to the Approval of FY2018-2023 Capital Improvement Program and CFA extension that $23 million was spent on parts “necessary for railcar safety and reliability.”

According to that same report, the money was moved not only because some parts were not procured in compliance with federal regulations but also “a lack of available non-federal capital funding.”

Tom Bulger, a member of the Metro board of directors, said he wasn’t aware of this specific move of money, but he was aware of alterations to the procurement process to ensure that Metro had parts to repair things.

“I’m aware of the fact that we were running out of spare parts at a fast clip since 2016 and they {Metro} needed to get more supplies in order to keep up with maintenance and the procurement process was accelerated,” he said.

When asked why Metro was running out of parts, Bulger assigned blame to the suppliers.

“Supply. Logistics. The suppliers were behind. We weren’t able to obtain the parts on a schedule that would meet Metro’s requirements.”

Those alterations to the procurement process are part of The Parts Bridging Program, a program started by WMATA to “temporarily purchase parts using non-Federal funds and procurement rules until December 2017,” according to the Approval of OneYear Extension of Parts Bridging Program (PMP) and Update on Parts Procurement Program. Last October, the enrollment deadline was extended until December 31 of this year and the initial contract end date was extended until June 30, 2023. According to that report, the program was started after a board resolution imposed “heightened standards on parts procurement.”

However, according to that same report, Metro was also running out of parts. The report states that “In the 2015 Annual Vital Signs Report, the Office of Performance (CPO) noted its findings that the high non availability rates of revenue service vehicles were attributable in part to inventory part shortages throughout the warehouse system. This shortage of inventory parts was having an adverse effect on safety and on time service within the transit system.”

According to that report, “the existing procurement methods used by Metro could not correct this deficiency.”

According to the documents, a goal of the program is to - after the fact - request waivers for contracts that didn’t follow FTA regulations or be eligible for reimbursements from the FTA from any given part in the program.

According to FTA spokesman Steven Taubenkibel, the use of local funds is a local decision.

WMATA has been accused of breaking FTA regulations before.

In 2014, a damning FTA audit revealed WMATA’s misuse of grant money, which included WMATA incurring unallowable expenditures and underreporting $42 million in federal expenditures. According to the report, WMATA also offered a contract without soliciting the three bids necessary to make that contract competitive. According to the 2014 audit, Metro didn’t have the internal controls to properly manage their grant money, although the final report of the audit included documents that acknowledged Metro’s progress on improving its internal controls.

Carol Kissal, the CFO of the Metro at the time and the person to whom some of the problem departments reported too departed.

“It’s all been cleaned up as far as I know,” said Bulger. “It better be.”

“When the changeover came there was a different way for accounting for hours spent and parts and personnel that seems to be working better,” he said about the changes to Metro’s operations after the audit. And we brought in a new CFO from Chicago.”

FTA today still requires Metro to carry out corrective actions for safety and they oversee how WMATA uses federal grant money. According to the FY2017 budget, WMATA’s operating personnel budget decreased by $21.6 million, primarily because WMATA moved expenses for the required safety actions to the Capital Improvement Program. In that same year, that decrease was offset by increases for FTA required safety actions.

Earlier, FTA diverted a large sum of money into safety spending

According to FTA correspondence with WMATA, FTA diverted $20 million of non-safety spending into safety spending, $10 million away from pressure washing and cosmetic maintenance of the stations and $10 million away from open bankcard and automatic fare collection systems. They then put that money into SafeTrack.

FTA management is also apparently unhappy with the local governments and their failure to provide for adequate safety oversight for local transit. According to FTA correspondence with local governments in early 2017, FTA withheld federal grant money from local transit companies, including Metro, until a new safety oversight program could be certified and it is unclear if that has even happened yet.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation advised the Governors and Mayor that their respective jurisdictions may be subject to the withholding of up to five percent of their FY 2017 Urbanized Area formula funds if they did not collectively establish a State Safety Oversight Program (SSOP) for the rail operations of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metrorail), certified by FTA, by February 9, 2017,” reads the correspondence. “They have not met that deadline.”

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“We Just Deal With It”

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Second in a series)

Metro workers say many are afraid to report safety problems

Metro entranceWASHINGTON, D.C. — Metro union workers claim Metro management is the biggest problem in guaranteeing safety.

According to Raymond Jackson, who represents Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Metro workers say they are afraid to report safety problems because supervisors react negatively when they do. Jackson, executive vice president of Local 689, said instances in which Metro workers fail to report safety concerns occur often, and they are more frequent than most realize. For many, not reporting safety issues is becoming second-nature.

“We’ve been dealing with it for so long, we just deal with it,” Jackson said. “You just deal with per se not working safe.”

ATU Local 689 spokesperson David Stephen said the union would not violate Metro policy through facilitating interviews for a reporter with frontline workers. 

“It is against their company policy,” Stephen said. “They can be fired for that. You’re asking our members to speak to you so they can get fired. I will not, absolutely not do that.”

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Metro faces severe budget trouble

metro logoWith ridership continuing to decline, revenues from fares also decreasing despite rate increases and at least a half a dozen pending lawsuits with claims of one million dollars or more, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority trains continue to chug along, in part, thanks to an influx of government money.

“A primary cause of Metro’s current budget challenge is the decline in rail ridership. Total rail ridership peaked in 2009 and has stagnated or declined each year since then,” Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA General Manager/CEO, wrote in his executive summary of this year’s Fiscal Budget, which began July 1.

The $3.1 billion FY 2018 proposed budget includes $1.8 billion for operations and has more expenses than income in the 186 page-budget. Money for operations includes $841 million from fares, parking and advertising, and another $976 million from government funding from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Metro’s total operating budget is very dependent upon the government, noted a spokesman from the National Society of Accountants, who reviewed recent budgets for the Sentinel.

“This thing is bleeding, but it is propped up by government funds,” the spokesman said. “There has been a substantial drop in the use of the Metro.”

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Metro has history of major problems

metro logoThe latest problems regarding safety on the Metrorail is but the latest in a long line of safety problems that go back decades – some say since the very beginning of the Metrorail system.

Others who’ve worked for Metro say getting repairs or any work done was a “constant battle,” with plenty of blame available to go around as to the cause.

In December 2009, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Metro’s state-level safety oversight body which FTA later replaced, published a report that detailed an extensive list of workplace safety violations and a lack of a safety culture at WMATA.

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More Than 100 Violations

Metro Investigations (First in a series): Broken Promises - Bad Dreams

Metro managers still struggling with a broken unsafe rail system

Metro entranceWhile the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority claims Metrorail services is getting “Back 2 Good” a four month long investigation by The Sentinel newspapers shows the Metro system is still suffering from a laundry list of ills – including more than 100 safety deficiencies.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in June SafeTrack – WMATA’s yearlong effort to rehabili- tate its services was finished and three years worth of repairs were done in just a year. But Federal Transit Administration officials say there is still a list of 109 safety deficiencies that are past due.

“The mindset at the supervisor level and down is they really don’t do nothing unless they're specially directed to do it,” a former management level WMATA employee said. “They could walk right over something that was broke and not fix it because they were not told to do it.”

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Wile E. Coyote and the Metro rider

MC DC Wile E. Coyotes Acme Purchases Better Than Metro in BWThere is little doubt the Metrorail system is in desperate need of repair.
Despite a “Safetrack” plan by Metro to bring Metro “Back 2 Good” and despite all the inhouse ads on Metro touting its increased efforts to fix escalators, tracks, bring new metro rail cars online and clean up the metro stations, the federal government recently outlined more than 100 deficiencies the system still faces.
We at The Sentinel decided it was best since our readers are some of the most frequent Metro riders as they go to and from work, to take a close look at the Metro system.

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Shutdown of four Red Line Metro stations Labor Day weekend

  • Published in Local

Trains to follow Sunday schedule on Labor Day

metro logoMetro riders must board shuttles on part of the Red Line through Monday to allow for the continuation of a waterproofing pilot program to reduce leaks in tunnels and for maintenance work, spokesperson Ron Holzer said.

Holzer said the shutdown is scheduled for Sept. 2 through 4 and Sept. 9 and Sept. 10.

Buses replace trains between Twinbrook and Friendship Heights stations through closing Monday, officials said in a news release. White Flint, Grosvenor-Strathmore, Medical Center and Bethesda stations will be closed through Monday.

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Purple Line clears legal step

  • Published in Local

A week after a panel of federal judges granted a stay, giving the paused Purple Line project new life, the County Council gave the go-ahead to the state transit administration to start work on the project.

On July 24, the Council approved a franchise agreement to allow the Maryland Transit Administration to build, operate and maintain the Purple Line in County owned right-of-ways. The unanimous agreement by the Council clears a legal step by giving the MTA the franchise agreement and authority to start working on the project on County-owned land.

The County will not charge the MTA for the new 70-year franchise agreement, citing “public benefits” for the project. Most of the County-owned land that the franchise agreement covers is in the Georgetown Branch area, a strip of land between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

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State senator defends future frontline Metro workers’ pensions

  • Published in Local

GAITHERSBURG – A state senator representing Montgomery County on Thursday defended pensions for future Metro employee pensions, which the general manager proposed replacing with fixed contribution, and suggested changes for state funding of Metro.

State Sen. Richard Madaleno (D- 18) said after a news conference Thursday he believes the presence of pensions and sufficient benefits improves Metro workers’ performance in their jobs.

Madaleno cited a 2015 article by Justin Wolfers and Jan Zilinsky of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who said, on the basis of numerous studies, that workers with higher wages and pensions were likely to perform better as employees because they were happier.

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