May 18, 2022 - News

Safety audit shows Metro is Back2Bad

A Metro rider waits for a train.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission audit that preceded 72 train operators being pulled from service is packed with troubling safety issues within the agency.

Why it matters: Even as ridership has fallen during the pandemic, Metrorail transports roughly 230,000 people each weekday, and safety oversights put those riders in danger.

The big picture: The audit — which spans more than 50 pages — says the agency has “a culture that accepts noncompliance” with written rules, a “hit or miss” record when it comes to adequate training for key personnel, and poor internal communication. 

Training-specific findings went beyond re-certification issues:

  • Employees responsible for leading a variety of trainings are not always properly trained themselves. 
  • What’s more, “Personnel who have taught train operator classes said there are definitely people who have been certified ... who they would not get on the train with if that person was the operator,” the audit says.
  • Proper “territory familiarization” was also lacking for multiple positions, including new or recently transferred train operators who may not know their new line or understand important nuances such as spots where it’s more difficult to stop.

Here are more damning findings:

  • Inspectors noted multiple instances of improperly granting “foul time,” a process that ensures a track is clear before an employee enters it. Foul time would be needed for employees on the track for repair work or to retrieve dropped items. 
  • Workers were using expired electric gloves, which prevent electrocution. Furthermore, employees who use the gloves didn’t know they had an expiration date.
  • The audit cites multiple examples of terminal supervisors and interlocking operators watching videos on their personal devices during safety incidents, including the 2020 derailment in the Alexandria Yard.

State of play: The safety commission released another report yesterday detailing the agency’s improper power restoration process, which puts workers in danger of having the electricity turned back on before they leave the track. It says the agency continues to “put its personnel at risk of serious injury or death” by not following its own rules.

💭 Our thought bubble: Although not entirely surprising for the transit service that launched the “Back2Good” initiative in 2016, this is an unsettling set of findings. 

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