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By Kathleen Stubbs    @kathleenstubbs3 WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dozens of elected officials from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties signed a letter to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and the Board of Directors requesting the return of late-night rail service. Del. David Moon (D-20), who represents Montgomery County, said he came up with the idea to […]

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WASHINGTON — Past efforts to improve bus service have failed in the D.C. region because jurisdictions were using tactics, not a regional strategy, Metro consultants say. Metro leadership wants to change the business model of bus service in the region, both for Metrobus and for local bus service such as Ride On in Montgomery County […]

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SILVER SPRING — The president of Metro’s largest union says recent management decisions put riders at risk of losing their jobs due to tardiness.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 president Jackie Jeter is criticizing WMATA managers’ decision to allow contractors to run shuttle bus services while a Red Line station was closed last month because deficiencies in the shuttle service created a risk that riders might lose their jobs due to tardiness.

Metro management paid private bus operators to transport riders between Silver Spring Station and Fort Totten Station when WMATA temporarily closed Takoma Station for a capital improvement project. Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly had said the long trip times and long lines of people waiting to board at Silver Spring Station Nov. 27 were due to traffic caused by an unrelated vehicle crash that day.

However, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 president Jackie Jeter – whose union represents more than 9,000 Metro employees – attributed the shuttle delays Nov. 27 and 28 to WMATA’s decision to use private buses operated by contract bus operators rather than Metrobus drivers and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority vehicles.

“Metro needs to take responsibility for their piss-poor planning. This shutdown – which is SafeTrack, only by another name – was announced over the summer,” Jeter said. “They had time to prepare, yet here we are with private contractors who can’t get the job done in a way that gives the riding public the Metro service they deserve,” she added.

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Red Line riders intending to travel between Glenmont and D.C. must continue to take a shuttle bus or seek alternate means to reach Fort Totten station, while workers continue efforts to replace the Takoma station track crossover.

The replacement project – which started Nov. 25 and is scheduled to continue through Dec. 10 – requires shuttle buses to replace train service between Silver Spring and Takoma stations, and between Takoma and Fort Totten stations.

“It’s a 16-day window; hopefully it’s not as much of an impact, given the season,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said on Nov. 16.

Additional Red Line stations will close this weekend for further capital projects, including radio cable installation and power cable replacement, Metro officials said. Riders should expect fewer trains and some crowding on the Red Line this weekend. Glenmont, Wheaton, Forest Glen and Silver Spring stations will close Dec. 2 and Dec. 3.

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WASHINGTON — Members of the Senate committee overseeing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration said in a letter sent last week to WMATA CEO Paul Wiedefeld they are concerned the agency’s Office of Inspector General lacks the independence necessary to do its job properly.

“WMATA’s apparent control over the OIG appears to limit the OIG’s ability to act independently and may ultimately hinder effective oversight and transparency of the agency,” wrote Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who serve as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The senators’ letter came after WMATA Inspector General Geoffrey Cherrington informed them that the transit agency has implemented policies that have hampered his office’s independence.

Of particular concern to Johnson and McCaskill was the revelation that the WMATA OIG lacks its own IT department and its own computer systems. This, Cherrington noted, has allowed WMATA’s IT department to install keystroke logging software on OIG computers in the past, and could still allow WMATA’s IT administrators to keep tabs on current investigations.

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Passenger talks of his experience surviving the 2009 Metrorail crash 

Patrick Tuite.   PHOTO COURTESY OF CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY  On really hot days, we might call air conditioning a “lifesaver.” On June 22, 2009, some good air conditioning on a Metro platform actually helped to save Patrick Tuite’s life.

Tuite was a survivor of the horrific Metrorail crash that day that took nine lives, on a Red Line train going from the Takoma to the Fort Totten station. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the accident occurred because a warning system, intended to alert Metrorail operators of stationary trains on the tracks ahead, was not functioning.

Tuite, now 50, was on his way to teach a summer-school night class at Catholic University of America. He was, and still is, a professor at the university’s theater department.

Until the accident, Tuite said he almost always rode near the front of the front car of Metro. “I thought it was safer to sit near the operator,” he explained. “It was also nice to look out the front window with my kids.”

All nine people killed in the crash are believed to have been toward the front of the front car. The front car survivors were toward the rear at the moment of the crash. 

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“This is it. This is how I’ll die.”

That’s what Tom Davey thought at the bleakest moments in the January 2015 Metrorail smoke incident that claimed the life of another passenger, Carol Glover.

Davey even tried to call his ex-wife so she could tell their daughter Althea that he loved her. But he couldn’t get a phone connection.

Federal investigations of the electrical fire, which burned the third rail and electrical cables, uncovered irregular maintenance, failure to replace old equipment, faulty safety inspections, and inadequate emergency protocols. The incident served as a wakeup call to Metro and the community that the increased safety effort, following the catastrophic 2009 crash that took nine lives, fell way short of the needed level.

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Broken Promises – Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Fifth in a series)

WMATA’s overall crime down but concerns remain on Metrorail 

In the last six years, the MTPD (Metro Transit Police Department) has battled several lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) relating to their use of excessive force. At the same time, although overall crime has gone down at Metro stations, the number of assaults has gone up. Two notable suits involved young teens. According to the complaint filed by the ACLU in D.C. district court, in 2013 a 14-year-old girl referred to as A.K., was falsely arrested by MTPD officer Leo Taylor for a possible curfew violation. According to the ACLU the curfew would not have applied to A.K. since the train she was on was involved in interstate travel. Taylor pulled A.K. away from her older sister, punched her in the face, handcuffed her and then dragged her out of the station.

According to the complaint, Taylor took A.K. to a street-level bus shelter. Another officer told A.K. she could stand up, when she did Officer Taylor tackled her to the ground and smashed A.K’s head against the side of a bus shelter. When A.K. started to spit blood, Taylor tried to put a surgical mask on her, when A.K. resisted, Taylor hit the 14-year-old in the face several more times.

The teen suffered a severe concussion and had to receive physical therapy due to her injuries.

According to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) spokeswomen Sherri Ly, Taylor still works for Metro. She was unable to provide any specifics about his duty assignments.

“Like every police force in a large metropolitan area, they are dealing with tens of thousands of people every day; they are dealing with crowded conditions. I have some sympathy that they have a very tough job to do, in general, police officers try to do it well sometimes things do not turn out right, more often there are officers who just lose their temper,” said ACLU legal head Art Spitzer.

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Broken Promises – Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Fourth in a series)

WMATA’s quest to get “Back2Good” runs into many problems

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) SafeTrack program concluded months ago, riders on the rail system continue to deal with closures and single-tracking – strategies the Metro system may be employing for some time.

Just weeks after the conclusion of the WMATA SafeTrack program, maintenance workers were back on the tracks addressing issues, and even after months of accelerated work with thousands of repairs and replacements made to the tracks, grout pads and tie downs of the rail system, stations continue to close and safety incidents are still occurring.

Eric Randall, a principal transportation engineer with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said work and issues like those WMATA has faced are not unusual for metropolitan rail systems, but for a system with a backlog like Metro’s, it could take decades to get back on track.

“We are catching up on a backlog. It is going to take a few years, a handful of years or more maybe, to work and get through to get back to a state of good repair and keep following a fairly aggressive schedule, but Metro is never going to be new again,” Randall said. “We’re never going to get back to a whole brand new system, so yes, there’s always going to be a more aggressive maintenance schedule.”

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

David Stephen, spokesperson for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said a mechanic reported he was shocked while inspecting part of the underside of the 7000 series rail car Sept. 17. He called on Metro officials to pause inspection of 7000 series rail cars until after briefing railcar mechanics on potential hazards of inspecting and repairing the newest series of railcar.

“As a result of this incident, ATU Local 689 is demanding Metro not bring any 7000-series trains into the shop until all employees that come in contact with them are properly informed on the potential for hazards, and training is given on bringing trains to manufacturer specification (to date, railcar mechanics have yet to be trained on maintaining 7000-series cars),” Stephen said in a statement.

Stessel confirmed the mechanic was shocked while inspecting a railcar, adding the incident occurred at West Falls Church Rail Yard. He said the mechanic was not injured.

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Metrorail map from Dec. 15, 1976. COURTESY PHOTO  “What took you so long?”

That was part of my reaction to Metrorail when I started using it regularly in 1977. I grew up on Long Island, and often visited New York City, where I took the subway all around Manhattan and to summer jobs. So with my New York background, it felt funny to be in a major city with no subway when I moved to DC in 1969.

Metrorail opened on March 27, 1976, with just five Red Line stations: Farragut North, Metro Center, Judiciary Square, Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue. Gallery Place opened in December 1976. (NoMaGallaudet did not open until 2004.)

When the Dupont Circle station opened on Jan. 17, 1977, I became a regular Metro commuter. I lived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and worked at the D.C. Council as a legislative aide for John A. Wilson, after whom the District’s city hall, the Wilson Building, is named.

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Rail car part deteriorating prematurely, Metro official says

A 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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Broken Promises – Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Third in a series) FTA concerned with the latest in Metrorail’s budget problems A 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 […]

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

Metro workers say many are afraid to report safety problems

WASHINGTON, 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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With 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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The 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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Metro Investigations (First in a series): Broken Promises – Bad Dreams

Metro managers still struggling with a broken unsafe rail system

While 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.”