Metro safety chief says aging rail fastener led to smoke on Red Line Featured

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WASHINGTON – The Metro chief safety officer at a Board Safety Committee Meeting said smoke incidents near Gallery Place and Metro Center stations in the last two weeks resulted from rail fasteners that are wearing out.

Metro Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin said a stray electric current arced off a rail fastener, causing smoke near Metro Center Station Thursday morning. Lavin said the arcing occurred because the rubber coating of the aging rail fasteners was wearing thin, exposing the metal of the fastener to the stray current.

“What we’re finding is that the fasteners used at that location are basically starting to get to the end of their useful life,” Lavin said.

Hundreds of Red Line riders offloaded at Dupont Circle and Gallery Place-Chinatown stations Thursday due to a two-station shutdown while fire fighters investigated reports of a track fire. The shutdown, along with trains stopping at each station for a few minutes, lengthened some riders’ trips by as much as an hour including waiting for a shuttle.

Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said it was an electrical arcing, which caused smoke but not fire, near Metro Center Station.

To reduce the wear on the 30- to 40-year-old fasteners, Lavin said, Metro will implement a “performance restriction,” under which trains will operate at a lower gear, when they pass over the ones that will require replacement.

Metro will in a few months begin a rail fastener replacement program. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said the fastener replacement program was connected to preventative maintenance.

“That is an ongoing issue,” Wiedefeld said “That is not going to be done overnight, and I’ve never said that.” and Metro needs more than a day to fix it, but Wiedefeld said he had to address the deteriorating rail ties during SafeTrack first.

“This is a long road, and we’ve had to do some emergency, real emergency things on the SafeTrack initiative,” said Wiedefeld. “That’s what drove that. But these are the core issues that we’ve been facing with, that we’ve been deferring for years and that we’re no longer deferring.”

He said he couldn’t promise that no fastener-related smoke incidents would occur but said he would try to reduce the frequency that they happen.

“I can’t prevent them from occurring,” Wiedefeld said. “I’m trying to minimize them and get that occurring during non-revenue periods.”



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