WASHINGTON—The metro Board of Directors have announced they will return earlier than anticipated after the announcement of the derailment of a car on the Silver Line two weeks ago. Federal officials have sounded off on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and demanding solutions. United States Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) […]
WASHINGTON—The metro Board of Directors have announced they will return earlier than anticipated after the announcement of the derailment of a car on the Silver Line two weeks ago. Federal officials have sounded off on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and demanding solutions.
United States Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) demanded WMATA’s Board of Directors call for an emergency meeting to review why Metro failed to fix an identified safety issue with one of their cars.
“Enough is enough,” Mikulski and Cardin said in a joint statement with Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. “How many times do we have to express our anger, frustration and outrage? This most recent incident is unacceptable and further demonstrates a pattern of neglect to physical infrastructure critical to the safety of those who ride Metro and those who work on it. Metro, once again, put service over safety and maintenance.”
The Metro Board of Directors announced their meeting would be on Sept. 3, according to WMATA officials. Originally, the board did not have their first meeting after the August recess scheduled until Sept. 10.
In the meeting, the board will review an investigative report submitted by Interim Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Jack Requa in response to the Aug. 6 derailment on the Silver Line. Board members will receive the report from Requa on Aug. 24.
Metro is aware of the Senators’ call for an earlier board meeting, according to Metro Board Chairman Michael Goldman, but the board members must receive “sufficient time to review the report and consult with their jurisdictional safety experts before the board meeting.”
“The board is outraged and dismayed that anyone working at Metro would have critical safety information and not act on it immediately,” Goldman said. “This is a breakdown of the organization’s chain of command and our safety culture. We obviously have much work ahead of us to improve the organization’s safety culture, and we will do so.”
It is unacceptable the wide gauge track problem reported by Requa could go unaddressed and unrepaired for four weeks, Goldman said. However, Requa’s quick release of information as well as other actions to order immediate track inspections and gather information for accountability is
“what the board expects,” he said.
WMATA discovered the issue in July, Requa said, along with other issues. They were slated for repairs and other issues were tended to, he said, but they had not yet addressed the issue of a potential derailment.
“Our inspections indicated there was an issue in July and we made other repairs that we had found but we had not gotten to this one,” Requa said. “The condition worsened during this time that created this incident.”
The system is older and needs to be repaired, Requa said. The minor problems should have been fixed before the situation occurred. “We should have addressed this earlier,” he said.
Throughout the last four months, WMATA has been taking criticism from local and federal officials alike on their safety standards and addressing safety issues previously brought to their attention.
Earlier this summer, the Federal Transit Authority issued a report with 54 issues within the rail service and bus service and issued 91 required actions for WMATA to take to make improvements to both systems.
The operations control center is “significantly understaffed,” the report said, with just 34 operators—20 positions below authorized work levels. 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, every day of the week according to the report, controlling 124 to 144 trains per day.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also released a report earlier this summer with recommendations urging WMATA to take action on safety issues involving the subway system’s electrical power cables.
Earlier this month, Mikulski and Cardin introduced an amendment to the senate establishing minimum safety standards for the transit systems across the nation, including WMATA.
Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-8) said WMATA being aware of the track defect and taking no corrective action on the matter is “more than unacceptable.”
“It is gross negligence that points to a troubling incompetence in the Metro system’s safety practices. By sheer luck, last week’s accident did not harm any passengers or Metro employees,” Van Hollen said. “Every rider deserves their safety to be guaranteed by more than luck, and Metro must immediately disclose what actions are being taken to ensure every known track defect is fixed immediately upon direction.”