WASHINGTON – After an intense meeting regarding the Aug. 6 derailment of a train car on the Blue and Orange Line near the Smithsonian Metro station, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Chief Safety Officer James Dougherty resigned from his position.
WMATA has seen intense pressure from all angles over the last few months regarding the safety of its rail car operations since a smoke incident earlier this year near the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. The Federal Transit Authority and the National Transportation Safety Board both issued recommendation reports for WMATA this summer asking for better safety standards and more accountability.
After the WMATA Board’s first meeting since July prior to its August recess, the board met to discuss the derailment with WMATA officials. After the meeting, Interim General Manager Jack Requa issued a statement stating his acceptance of Dougherty’s resignation.
“During his tenure of more than five years with WMATA, Jim has helped build a strong safety foundation with the establishment of our current safety department and the authority’s enhanced system safety program plan,” Requa said. “Under his leadership, WMATA has strengthened our safety training programs and focused on employee and customer safety, resulting in several consecutive years of injury reductions.”
Assistant Chief Safety Officer Louis Brown has been appointed acting chief safety officer until a permanent solution is found.
Several board members expressed their dissatisfaction with WMATA’s safety protocol regarding the Aug. 6 derailment. Assistant General Manager of Traffic Infrastructure Rob Troup cited human error as the cause for the removal of a “level black” notification on the exception report from the track geometry vehicle (TGV).
However, Board Member Lief Dormsjo questioned the process WMATA uses to locate track errors with the TGV and called for more “redundancy” checks throughout the process to prevent human error going forward.
Dormsjo questioned the role of WMATA’s safety department and called WMATA administrators out for their lack of transparency and openness to outside attention in their processes for safety verification.
“This incident didn’t occur on Aug. 6. It occurred on the day you brought in the TGV. The day you brought in the TGV you did not have a process in place to avoid this. I’d like to know how you had a process allowing for those two things,” Dormsjo said. “Where does the buck stop? You guys talked about resignations of employees, but did frontline employees do anything wrong?”
Dormsjo said he is concerned that Dougherty and the safety branch of WMATA are serving as a “paper tiger” for the organization and are not performing effectively enough. Troup said he takes full responsibility for the derailment incident and would not discuss resignations of any employees at the time.
As far as any resignations or terminations, Dormsjo said, the board would figure out what needs to happen down the line. No decisions had been made prior to the meeting and would later be discussed. Just hours after the meeting, Requa announced Dougherty’s resignation.
Requa said there are a number of things WMATA has done in response to the procedure verifying level black issues detected by the TGV. This incident was one of many, Troup said, the TGV detected and the others have been taken care of. A level black incident does not mean the train cannot run properly, but it must be addressed to prevent any potential safety hazards.
“I understand what the board members have said,” Requa said about the concerns of the board. “We’re reviewing all activities related to this incident and if there are additional personnel actions that need to be taken, they will be taken.”
Since the incident, Troup said, there is now a repair crew in place behind the vehicles to make repairs to anything that is immediately found. WMATA has also hired a consultant group specializing in derailments to look at the rail system and advising the organization.
“It’s important anytime you look at this to take an introspection and say what do we need to be able to do to create a better system,” Troup said. “There’s no question about that. Right now it’s mostly tied to process. It’s what we need to look at and what we need to focus on. We need to bring people I to affect those changes and make a better system.”
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