One week after an early-morning fire near the McPherson Square Metro station resulted in prolonged delays and drove General Manager Paul Wiedefeld to completely close the rail system on Wednesday for cable inspections and repairs, the Federal Transit Administration today began a “three-party safety blitz” on the struggling transit agency.

The FTA, which assumed temporary safety oversight of Metro in October, says its review will focus on red-signal overruns, track integrity, and properly securing trains in rail yards. In recent weeks, the transit agency has faced criticism for the number of red signal violations it has recorded—50 since 2012, the FTA explains. In early February, one train ran a light and nearly hit another.

“These activities will continue for several weeks with final reports expected by early summer,” the FTA said in a release. “The final reports will include findings which may lead to FTA issuing new safety directives to [Metro] with additional corrective actions.”

Metro’s safety challenges are manifold. The FTA assigned more than 90 corrective actions to the transit agency last year, only a handful of which Metro has satisfactorily closed so far. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Transportation has indicated that it will withhold funding from the District, Maryland, and Virginia if the states don’t create a new tri-state oversight committee for Metro by next February. (The leaders of those jurisdictions have agreed to do so, on paper.) Wiedefeld is also currently searching for a new chief safety officer, a position that has been filled on an interim basis since James Dougherty resigned in September.

FTA’s objective is to evaluate [Metro’s] rules, training, practices, and technologies in place to prevent red signal overruns,” the administration says. “To ensure comprehensive data collection and to look for commonalities across events, FTA will review all 50 red signal overrun investigation reports, conduct site assessments, interview individuals involved, review Rail Operations Control Center records, and assess previous corrective actions taken by [Metro] to prevent these events.”

As for rail integrity, the FTA says it will examine Metro’s training and supervision of track inspectors, the technology Metro uses to detect defects, and the flow of information related to such damages. On properly storing railcars, the administration says it will focus on “layovers between rush hours, nighttime layovers, and longer-term storage” to ensure employees are complying with rules.

“The result [is] that rail vehicles have rolled away striking other equipment or infrastructure,” the administration goes on to note.

The blitz comes as Wiedefeld and Metro board Chairman Jack Evans look to secure a dedicated source of funding for the agency.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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