Credit: Darrow Montgomery
Credit: Darrow Montgomery

After an arcing insulator showered sparks onto the platform of the Federal Center SW station early Thursday, the Federal Transit Administration on Saturday ordered Metro to “take immediate action” to combat the risk of fire and smoke throughout the rail system as well as to ensure staff prioritizes safety.

The urgent directive requires Metro to conduct a training “stand-down” by May 16, strengthen emergency preparedness, and spot track-problem areas with infrared testing. Additionally, the FTA says Metro has to reduce the amount of power drawn in high-risk areas, such as by limiting the number of cars on trains and slowing down their acceleration. The stand-down applies to “management, supervisors, roadway workers, and controllers” who would get a refresher on safety policies and procedures. If the transit agency fails to comply with the directive, the FTA says it could withhold financial assistance and force closures as needed.

“Serious safety events and incidents on the [Metro] rail system continue to occur with great frequency, including multiple smoke and fire events, red signal overruns, and derailments. Just since April 23, 2016, there have been eight smoke and fire events requiring evacuation and suspension of service. While these events are occurring more frequently, [Metro] continues to experience organizational and operational deficiencies that significantly limit its ability to recognize and resolve even the most serious safety issues.”

City Desk has reached out to Metro for comment and will update this post when we hear back. On Sunday, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told NBC4 that the Federal Center SW incident should have led to an earlier station closure (Metro shut it down during Thursday’s afternoon rush hour). Asked about the explosion, Wiedefeld said it was still under investigation, adding that Metro and FTA share the same goal. The general manager noted he would convene a safety meeting with all Metro’s top managers on Tuesday.

The agency on Friday released a huge maintenance program that it will implement over the next year, with changes expected for service starting in June. Metro’s new chief safety officer, Patrick Lavin, begins at the agency today. Meanwhile, the FTA faced criticism at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing last Tuesday, where members argued that the FTA lacks the muscle to effectively oversee Metro safety for the year, unlike the Federal Railroad Administration. The FTA has repeatedly contended that it can do so.

You can read the directive below:

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery