DC Metro’s Mishandling of Fire Prompts Safety Changes

May 9, 2016

Describing a dramatic list of missteps by Metro during a response to a station fire, the Federal Transit Administration issued a series of directives to the Washington D.C., transit agency while threatening to shut down the system.

The FTA, which took over direct safety oversight of Metro in October, said in a four-page directive Friday that the agency must take “urgent action” to ensure passenger safety which included daily testing for hot spots, stepped-up measures against water leakage in tunnels and reductions of electrical power use, The Washington Post reported. A “safety standdown” also was ordered to retrain all staff in proper procedures.

On Thursday, after a third rail insulator exploded, a Metro operations supervisor at the scene “conducted only a cursory inspection before ordering the damaged track back in service, the FTA said.

It then said the Rail Operations Control Center denied permission to maintenance personnel when they asked to take the track out of service and remove power from the third rail for inspection.

The control center did not give Metro investigators clearance for the inspections until several hours later, the FTA said, adding that “trains continued to operate across this potentially dangerous track without interruption.”

After a second fire and smoke incident occurred at the same station later in the day, then the control center closed that portion of the Blue, Orange and Silver lines.

Violation of the directive could lead to the FTA withholding financial assistance and “issuing restrictions, closures or prohibitions on service as necessary and appropriate to address unsafe conditions or practices that present a substantial risk of death or personal injury,” the FTA directive said.

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld on Friday unveiled a major, year-long repair plan requiring significant service disruptions. But the FTA order said the federal government thought Metro needed to take far more actions.

In a one-sentence response Saturday, a Metro spokesman said Wiedefeld “met with FTA this morning and is committed to implementing the new directives.”

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