Metro has made “considerable progress” in improving safety for workers and passengers, but the gains are built on a “fragile foundation,” according to a Federal Transit Administration audit.
The audit, requested by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore, followed a series of mishaps in July related to safety and maintenance failures, including a computer glitch that caused all five lines to shut down twice over the course of one weekend. Metro officials had vowed to improve safety after the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine, but a 2010 report had found the agency still had much work ahead of it.
“Any major changes in personnel, relaxation in attention to safety, reduction of resources devoted to safety, or re-emergence of complacency in the reporting and investigation of unusual occurrences and conditions could easily reverse WMATA’s recent gains,” according to the 43-page FTA audit report.
However, a new report released this week by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments predicts even more strains on the Metro system.
The council’s report said the region needs to do more to fund Metro maintenance and rehabilitation and to expand capacity through eight-car trains and other measures to keep up with the growing demand over the next 30 years. That demand is likely to come from a growing population and more passengers seeking alternatives to increasing traffic congestion on the highways.
An estimated 7 percent of the region’s population currently travels daily by public transit, although that percentage is predicted to increase just slightly by 2040. However, the forecast population growth for the region will mean increasingly severe crowding problems on Metro, according to the COG report.
Mikulski called Metro safety critical to the region’s economy because so many workers and visitors rely on the system for transportation. Other incidents auditors examined included one in which a worker was critically injured by a train in a rail yard near the Shady Grove station and reports of train doors opening at random. Mikulski urged Metro officials to implement the safety recommendations from the FTA in both the 2010 and the recent audits.
Among the recommendations already implemented is a new standard for reducing train speed during extreme heat conditions, new safety protocols for operating vehicles in maintenance facilities and train yards, and additional analysis of what caused the door openings.
“I applaud Metro’s new leadership for beginning to change its organizational culture to put safety first,” Mikulski said. “But I insist Metro continue making progress in creating a culture of safety.”
Mikulski held hearings after the 2009 fatal crash and was highly critical of Metro’s safety problems. In July, she requested that the FTA audit Metro again after a series of mishaps that included doors opening while the trains were moving, computer failures shutting down trains, a derailment and blocked emergency exits.
Metro officials agreed with the FTA’s findings in the report.
“We accept the recommendations by the Federal Transit Administration and are committed to addressing them as part of our ongoing improvement program,” said Jack Requa, Metro’s acting general and CEO. “In fact, we have already taken action in several areas.”