WASHINGTON – After conducting a safety management inspection, the Federal Transit Administration said it has found 54 safety concerns within the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail and Metrobus systems.
WMATA’s management has made improvements to its regulations over the years, the report said, and has addressed safety concerns in the past. However, the report said, organizational deficiencies are leading to negative results.
“FTA finds that over the last five years, WMATA has implemented new management initiatives and programs to address safety concerns, made advancements in many areas and improved its safety culture,” the report said. “However, the safety management inspection identified organizational deficiencies and operational concerns that continue to limit the agency’s effectiveness in recognizing and resolving safety issues.”
Jack Requa, interim general manager and CEO of WMATA, said the agency plans to use this recommendation report as a guide in making long-term enhancements to its transit system.
“We welcome this report as a roadmap for continuous safety improvements at Metro, and we especially appreciate the recognition of the many actions that we have taken to date to provide a foundation for our future work,” Requa said. “We will strengthen our operations, customer service and safety culture through training, staffing and ensuring compliance of safety policies and procedures.”
The FTA had 44 concerns with Metro’s rail system and just 10 with Metro’s bus system, the report said. FTA has issued a safety directive, it said, stating that WMATA must determine what changes need to be made to its fiscal year 2016 budget to make the service safer.
FTA found safety lapses in the rail system’s operations control center, the report said. The operations control center schedules and conducts maintenance work, manages emergencies and ensures the right-of-way for trains and personnel.
The operations control center is “significantly understaffed,” the report said, with 34 operators –20 positions below the authorized level. Because they are understaffed, controllers are forced to work “six or seven” 12-hour days per week. The operations control center is active 24 hours per day for seven days per week, the report said. It controls 124 to 144 trains with passengers per day.
Radio communication between the operations control center and the rail traffic controllers is also problematic, the report said. In interviews and operations at the operations control center, the report said, radio “discipline” is not actively enforced to reduce miscommunication.
Required identifications were not consistently provided from train operators to field personnel, the report said, and word-for-word repeats were “rarely observed” between the rail traffic controllers and the operations control center. Transmissions were also not always formally ended.
“WMATA must commit to more employee safety training, increased track time for maintenance work, and a greater effort at identifying and reducing safety risks to deliver the level of safety its passengers and employees deserve,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan.
WMATA is not effectively balancing safety operations and maintenance with the demand for passenger service, according to Anthony Foxx, the United States secretary for transportation.
“These are serious findings that strongly indicate that, despite gains made since the Fort Totten accident, WMATA’s safety program is inadequate,” Foxx said. “WMATA management, its board of directors and its state safety oversight agency must work together to address FTA’s required actions because the safety of passengers and personnel must be the top priority.”
With the understanding of the transit system’s users, Requa said, WMATA will work to find a balance between the safety operations and maintenance and providing service.
“With the understanding of our customers, we will address the need for a better balance between service and track outages to upgrade the system,” Requa said. “We remain committed to creating an even safer system.”
WMATA will have 30 days to respond to the FTA’s safety directive, the report said. WMATA will also be able to provide additional information for consideration and propose any alternative actions, it said. After 60 days, WMATA must submit a tracking matrix to the FTA identifying the specific actions that it will perform to address each required safety concern addressed in the FTA’s report.
The FTA must review and approve any actions WMATA may take, the report said, and will oversee any implementation of those actions. The two sides will meet monthly, the report said, until the FTA feels that its concerns are addressed and there is no need to meet any longer.
“FTA takes NTSB recommendations seriously and is taking quick action,” said McMillan. “This assessment will provide an opportunity to develop appropriate improvements for the benefits of rail transit riders nationwide.”
FTA is directing state safety oversight agencies with jurisdiction over rail transit agencies to conduct audits to assess and inspect subway tunnel ventilation systems, the report said. After the agencies complete and return the audits, it said, FTA will analyze the data to determine potential future rulemaking and safety guidance to the rail transit industry.