One day after U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx saidhe had considered ordering Metro to stop service last week a dangerous track explosion, the Federal Transit Administration on Wednesday delivered Metro yet another letter telling it to take “immediate action”—this time, “urgent repairs” at certain rail locations within the next three weeks.
FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers writes to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld that the agency must prioritize maintenance “on both tracks along three segments” of the subway: on the Red Line from the Medical Center to Van Ness stations, on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines from the Potomac Avenue station to the D&G junction, and on the Orange and Silver lines from the Ballston-MU to East Falls Church stations. The FTA says its inspectors identified these three areas as prone to fire and smoke.
“From April 23, 2016 to May 10, 2016, and separate from FTA’s regular daily inspections, we have investigated 15 safety events, including nine events with smoke and/or fire,” the letter reads. “Our teams have conducted daily inspections to monitor water intrusion and general track conditions, and to assess [Metro’s] work progress in several locations.”
The FTA acknowledges in the letter that Metro has already conducted what the authority dubbed a “maintenance surge” on the Red Line between the Medical Center and Friendship Heights stations after a Saturday fire near the latter stop. “However…the FTA finds that this work location needs to be extended on both tracks to Van Ness,” Flowers writes. The FTA wants the three segments receive various kinds of maintenance, including drain cleaning, debris removal, power-cable inspections, insulator replacements, third-rail repairs, and rail-fastener fixes. (A Metro spokesperson said the agency would review the letter.)
To ensure the repairs are done correctly, Metro must provide the FTA with its procedures for these three components, “a list of designated inspection staff with clear responsibility for implementing these procedures,” and “reestablish its program for cleaning insulators and removing debris” within 30 days.
Although the letter says Metro must come up with “indicators” and “targets” for reducing fire and smoke incidents, it does not specify what these could be. It follows a safety directive the FTA issued on May 7.
Wiedefeld on Friday announced his proposal to repair 15 locations throughout the rail system over the next year, called SafeTrack. The program will begin in June on a Virginia part of the Blue and Yellow lines.
Update 5:30 p.m.: A Metro spokesperson provided City Desk with the following statement on the FTA’s letter:
Metro has received the FTA’s May 11 letter and is reviewing it now. While the draft SafeTrack plan issued by Metro GM Wiedefeld last week was based on the professional judgment of engineers with a priority on safety, the FTA has directed Metro to make changes. As such, the draft plan will be modified. The final SafeTrack plan will be released as soon as possible, but likely will not be ready the original target date of May 16. Meanwhile, it is important for riders to know that GM Wiedefeld is not waiting on safety items. For example, the GM has directed that all porcelain insulators be removed from all underground stations over the next month, and [National Transportation Safety Board]-recommended sealing sleeves will be installed on all underground power cables by the end of May. In response to FTA’s safety directive regarding power draw ([FTA Directive] #16-3, the GM has ordered operating restrictions in the core to limit train acceleration and speed.