Jan 18, 2023 - News

Metro officials want a mediator to settle safety commission disputes

A passenger waits for a Metro train.

On multiple occasions, Metro officials have called WMSC directives arbitrary. Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Washingtonians watched another public fight between Metro and its regulator, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, over the holiday weekend.

Why it matters: The rocky relationship between the two organizations impacts riders' commutes and creates distrust in the transit agency.

What happened: Metro this week almost increased wait times on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines from 15 to 25 minutes after WMSC directed the agency to pull more than 50 train operators over a safety training issue. The change was announced on Sunday and would’ve taken effect Tuesday.

Ultimately, WMSC granted a stay on its directive after Metro appealed it. 

  • On Monday, Metro CEO Randy Clarke said the 50-plus train operators being pulled from service had already met the full safety training requirements.

The transit agency has until Jan. 24 to provide documentation showing that the operators were properly trained, or those longer wait times could become a reality.

The intrigue: Now, Metro officials want an outside mediator to help settle disputes between the two organizations. On multiple occasions, Metro officials have called WMSC directives arbitrary and disputed their findings.

  • “The relationship between the WMSC and Metro is structurally untenable,” Metro board chair Paul C. Smedberg said during the Monday press conference.

“[Monday] shows our process works,” WMSC spokesperson Max Smith says of Metro’s petition being accepted. “We’re not talking about matters of opinion here, so I’m not sure what there would be mediation about.”

Between the lines: This is far from the first time that a WMSC audit or directive would have led to last-minute hurdles for commuters. 

  • The regulator has chided Metro for not following its own safety standards on numerous occasions, including in 2021 when all 7000-series trains were pulled from service following a derailment, which impacted the opening of the Silver Line extension last year.
  • Last May, 72 train operators were pulled from service over lapsed certifications, leading to increased wait times. Then-Metro CEO Paul Wiedefeld resigned the next day, 45 days before his scheduled retirement.

What’s next: In addition to the directive regarding train operators, WMSC issued a separate directive instructing Metro not to scale back 7000-series train inspection intervals.

  • The move, which Metro appealed, impacts the agency’s plan to return the full 7000-series fleet to service, which would shorten wait times.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Washington D.C. stories

No stories could be found

Washington D.C.postcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more