Two Metro employees have resigned in the wake of the August derailment of an empty train, an incident that occurred one month after the transit agency identified the issue.

An incident report released today “reveals that the physical root cause of the derailment was the failure of fasteners to properly hold the rail securely,” WMATA Safety Committee Chairman Michael Goldman said in a release. “This was compounded by a lack of systematic, immediate review of data generated during the inspection vehicle runs.”A “level black” issue was found on July 9 by a Track Geometry Vehicle, according to the report, but a Metro employee “mistakenly deleted the information about the defect from the exception report.” (“Level black” refers to any issue that “needs to be addressed immediately” since there’s a risk of operations-failure if service continues.) Because the employee deleted the information, believing the defect to be a “routine anomaly,” the information never reached a maintenance crew. That employee, as well as a supervisor, have since resigned.

Track inspectors also missed the defect “on multiple occasions,” according to the report; that issue is still under investigation, but “Metro has taken immediate action to strengthen the inspection process to be more specific and require more detailed and accurate reports for maintenance managers.” Other disciplinary action may follow.

“In reviewing the TGV inspection process, we have learned that the derailment was caused by a combination of human error and flawed Metro processes,” Goldman said in the release. “While the employee believed he was deleting a routinely detected anomaly and not an actual rail defect, that such a serious error went undetected with no checks and balances in place reveals gaps in Metro’s safety policies and procedures.”

Metro’s board adds that it expects to complete a system-wide track review by mid-September, assuring riders that it “would not continue running trains if conditions were unsafe for passenger travel.” The transit agency has been at pains to convince commuters of safe operations this year since the Jan. 12 smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza station that killed one and made more than 80 sick. Newly uncovered documents by City Paper show that Metro hired two crisis-management firms in the wake of that incident for hundreds of thousands of dollars (a presentation by one of the firms described the debacle as “what many have come to expect from Metro”). After the Aug. 6 derailment, Metro Interim General Manager and CEO Jack Requa said he was “certainly pleased, in a sense, that there were no injuries” on the derailed non-passenger train. “Metro, from top to bottom, is responsible,” he said.

The board clarified that the derailment was not the result of inadequate resources or funding. Metro is working with the Federal Transit Administration to address a recent safety review which found that the transit agency had failed to update its procedures since a fatal 2009 crash along the Red Line.

“Critical information was lost due to human error and the absence of a process that allowed the error to go undetected,” Metro’s board said in today’s release. “This was not a case of a known safety defect condition being intentionally ignored…Human error is one thing all transportation carriers have to manage.”

The board will hold a Safety Committee Meeting on Sept. 3 to discuss the report.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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