Metro still having trouble with “Back2Good”

Metro officials said in a November report the yearlong SafeTrack program did not meet goals for some of the projects as management had claimed; more service disruptions will be caused by single-tracking and shutdowns for additional repairs. 

Quality assurance internal compliance and oversight (QICO) officials at Metro said several of the projects from the year of SafeTrack’s multi-day, single-tracking- and shutdown-related projects either left some problems unresolved or had fresh problems develop after the SafeTrack program ended. Some problems led to service disruptions such as speed restrictions. 

Metro officials determined Metro has problems in planning, defining scope of capital projects such as SafeTrack and ensuring that work consistently meets the requirements for inspection and data recording from inspections. Also included in the report are corrective action plans for each of the problems found in the investigation.

Metro officials, engineers and other employees in the QICO department completed an in-depth evaluation of SafeTrack and determined some sections of track either are not “in a state of good repair” or are on the low end of “state of good repair,” according to the report dated November last year. Employees must monitor the track segments closely. Metro officials adapted the term “state of good repair” from the Federal Transit Administration’s asset-scoring system, using it to describe the “age” of the tracks for which crews don’t have to interrupt weekday service to prevent them from becoming defective and falling apart. The FTA asset-scoring system includes a numeric scale to rate assets from worn (the worst) to excellent (new asset with no apparent defects). 

Metro Board of Directors member Tom Bulger, who represents D.C., said he had several questions after reading the QICO report on SafeTrack. 

“How far did we get? How close did we get?” he asked. “How short did we wind up? Did we get to 90 (percent)?”

Bulger said he wasn’t sure how to react because he’s not an engineer and didn’t have expertise in how the distinct parts within the “safety surges” interacted. 

General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said he had planned SafeTrack to perform three years’ worth of maintenance and repairs to infrastructure across all lines of the system in one year from 2016 to 2017, to improve safety and reliability, as well as improve a rider’s experience while riding on a Metrorail train. Following each SafeTrack project, or, as Wiedefeld called each project, “safety surge,” the sections of rail were in a “state of good repair,” officials said in reports between mid-2016 and mid-2017. 

QICO officials scored half the parts of track included in “safety surges” on the poorer end of “state of good repair,” and one track segment failed to meet that standard. 

SafeTrack capital expenses totaled $162 million, including expenses from Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017, Metro officials said in the 2017 year-end financial report. 

Employees implemented speed restrictions due to “track-related hazards” after completion in 15 of the 16 projects, according to the QICO officials.

A “state of good repair” would earn a score of between 3 and 5 out of 5 on the FTA asset-scoring system. Engineers and investigators gave the Eastern-Market-to-Minnesota-Avenue segment a rating of 2.8 out of 5 – the worst of the 16 projects. That equals a “marginal” rating, which FTA officials say means it is “near end of useful life” and is worse than a “state of good repair.”

QICO officials expounded upon the FTA asset score of “marginal” in the contexts of track repairs. A “marginal” asset “has degraded to the point that significantly degrades rail operations (many speed restriction and out-of-service conditions.),” officials said. “Small (e.g. weekend) corrective maintenance events are increasingly not feasible to return the track to state of good repair, warranting a single-tracking or shutdown event encroaching on weekday rail operations. Certain track assets (e.g. double crossover) are at end-of-lifecycle.”

The area of the second “safety surge” will require continued repairs in addition to maintenance. Its 13 speed restrictions between the end of the project in July 2016 and August 2017 indicate that Metro had to further prevent potential hazards on that section of track after completion of the SafeTrack program. 

Back in July 2016, officials said that same track segment between Eastern Market and Minnesota Avenue stations was in a “state of good repair” according to the SafeTrack: Surge 2 progress report. The results of the project “are preliminary and subject to quality control processes which will remain continuous throughout the duration of SafeTrack.”

“Challenging conditions in the track sections of the Surge 2 area have resulted in a high rate of post-SafeTrack defects and service impacts,” QICO officials said, in contrast. “WMATA has prioritized this area for further remediation, work is planned to begin during FY18 to continue in FY19 and beyond.” 

While Eastern Market to Minnesota Avenue was the only project that the QICO investigation determined was not in a “state of good repair,” other sections are not without issues. Even the stations marked in a “state of good repair” still have routine red conditions, or conditions that must be repaired soon, likely impacting service. 

QICO officials labeled more than half of the SafeTrack areas as “adequate” but not quite “good,” on the FTA asset-scoring system, including all four Red Line projects. Officials said those project areas, therefore, would need additional work projects after the SafeTrack safety surges, but they would not harm peak – rush hour – service. 

“Adequate” is within a “state of good repair.” 

“Maintenance backlog may begin to develop, and PM (preventative maintenance), planned replacements, and some corrective maintenance is being performed outside of peak periods (M-F) through weekend single-tracking,” officials said, summarizing “adequate” in the context of Metrorail.

The number of speed restrictions managers placed on a section of rail to reduce risk of hazards is an indicator of a “state of good repair” or lack thereof, officials said. After 15 of the 16 surges – such as Eastern Market to Minnesota Avenue, National Airport to Braddock Road and Ballston to East Falls Church – managers restricted train speed on the affected sections of track. SafeTrack 1 Ballston to East Falls Church had seven speed restrictions post-SafeTrack. SafeTrack 3 (National Airport to Braddock Road) had nine speed restrictions after the “safety surge.” 

The rest had between zero and four speed restrictions, from the date workers and contractors completed the projects to Aug. 1, 2017. 

Fresh issues developed in some former SafeTrack sites. Following the 15th “surge,” the month-long shutdown between Stadium Armory and New Carrollton stations, QICO inspectors and engineers observed “defects on aerial structures appearing,” according to the report. The surge work consisted of wooden rail tie and grout pad replacement on the aerial structures. 

Between Rosslyn and Pentagon stations on both tracks for the 12th project, workers replaced grout pads during an 18-day, line segment shutdown. Then QICO officials reported a new issue: “new grout pads have uneven surfaces within surge limits.” 

Bulger said he will ask Metro management to explain what led to the various FTA asset scores for the SafeTrack surges. It could have been “logistically complicated,” he said.

Wiedefeld has said the purpose of SafeTrack was to replace the most serious risk of derailment which was from the wooden cross ties. 

Cross tie replacement wasn’t safe from QICO criticism, either. National Airport to Braddock Road had “inadequate” wooden rail tie replacement. Two broken rails occurred during the winter of 2017.


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