Another day for Metro, another damning report.
Metro is failing riders and safety standards in terms of inspections and repairs, so the Federal Transit Administration issued 12 “safety directives” Monday that shouldn’t be necessary for a big-city transit system—such as more training for track inspectors, more thorough reviews of infrastructure, and ensuring that workers with technical expertise are available for specialized repair work.
Citing last month’s Silver Line derailment at East Falls Church, the FTA noted track conditions were so poor that they “clearly” failed to meet “allowable safety parameters specified in [Metro’s] track safety standards, and were not found or addressed by [Metro] personnel prior to the derailment.” The FTA also found evidence that Metro “was not adhering to established standards regarding the frequency of track inspections.”
Similar findings from the National Transportation Safety Board, which charges that Metro personnel knew about the problem since 2009 and weren’t monitoring the tracks around the system often enough, prompted Metro Board Chairman and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans to call an “emergency meeting” of Metro’s board from its typical August recess. So that’s one more sore spot to discuss later this month.
Asked why the meeting is happening nearly a full month after the derailment, former Metro Board Chairman Mort Downey cites August as a popular month for vacation. (Downey answered his phone from vacation in Copenhagen, and he’s not even on the board anymore.)
For his part, Evans is indignant. “What if the train had turned over, you know?” he tells City Paper. “Then you’d have a lot more than [one person] hurt. Even though it wasn’t a significant accident per se and people didn’t get hurt, it could’ve been a very serious accident.”
Despite the significant safety lapse, Evans says it’s not a really an “emergency” for the board to convene and instead characterizes the Aug. 25 huddle as a “special” meeting. “The board having a meeting tomorrow would not lead to it getting fixed faster,” Evans says, explaining that safety reforms fall squarely to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.
At the upcoming meeting, Wiedefeld will brief the members on a series of recent, and disturbing, setbacks: Metro operators recently running red lights, aMetro Transit Police Officer charged with trying to aid the ISIS terror group, and of course the derailment.
“We wanted to provide enough time for the general manager and the chief safety officer to complete their internal investigation [of the derailment],” says Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland on the Metro board and spoke with Evans about the timing. “Second of all, it struck us that the normal meeting date of the last Thursday in the month would seem to be the best time to schedule this.” Plus, Evans says, all the board members are available to attend on the 25th.
Downey, the former Metro board chair, says regardless of the meeting timing, the body needs to hear a full-fledged review of what happened and why.
“I hope that that’s what the goal of the chairman’s meeting is and not just a finger pointing exercise, which won’t get very far,” Downey says of Evans.
But Evans says he’s got his pointing finger at the ready. “You had 15 years of neglect going on over there,” he says. “You had board chairmans, you had board members, you had general managers. Is nobody responsible? Is that what you’re saying to me, that no one’s responsible?”