WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) today issued a Safety Directive to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) requiring the transit agency to complete 12 actions to correct track integrity deficiencies in the Metrorail system. The Safety Directive is based on 12 significant findings set out in a Track Integrity Investigation Report also released today. The report includes findings from FTA’s spring 2016 “Safety Blitz” assessment of Metrorail and details systemic deficiencies in the inspection, maintenance and repair of track that have contributed to or could have resulted in train derailments and other track-related incidents.
“FTA’s comprehensive investigation into WMATA’s track inspection and maintenance program has revealed significant safety concerns,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “FTA has directed Metrorail to take specific action to correct these deficiencies, and continues to provide vigorous oversight of Metrorail’s safety efforts in other areas of operations.”
“While WMATA has taken a number of critical steps to address safety deficiencies, it must improve its track safety protocols and training programs,” said FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers. “In addition, greater coordination is needed between WMATA track and maintenance personnel to prioritize work and adhere to established standards, including conditions that warrant speed restrictions or single tracking.”
The FTA track integrity investigation that began earlier this year is the result of its review of WMATA’s investigation into a major derailment that occurred on August 6, 2015, near Smithsonian Station and information obtained from other incidents in the system. The investigation took place between March and June 2016, focusing on 10 specific track segments[external link], including portions of all six Metrorail lines. The report also includes preliminary findings from FTA’s investigation of the July 29, 2016, Metrorail passenger train derailment near the East Falls Church Station.
The FTA investigation evaluated the quality of WMATA’s track standards, the effectiveness of procedures for identifying track defects and imposing speed restrictions, the quality of training for track inspectors and maintainers, the resources currently available to support track inspections, coordination and information sharing across maintenance departments, and specific track maintenance and construction quality program issues.
The 12 safety findings detailed in the FTA report address WMATA’s systemic deficiencies in: track inspection resources and training; its track inspection manual; track quality oversight and supervision; and track construction and maintenance. Among the findings include: track inspectors have inadequate training; there is insufficient time for track inspection; there is not a clear process for track inspectors and supervisors to impose and remove speed restrictions; there is a failure to use inspection data to inform and prioritize track maintenance; and inspection and maintenance activity does not adequately address the tunnel drainage system where water can have a corrosive effect on track infrastructure.
As directed by Safety Directive 16-4, WMATA must develop corrective action plans to address the findings of the report and related required actions. WMATA’s proposed corrective action plans are subject to FTA approval, and FTA will monitor the agency’s progress to implement the safety improvements.
FTA can enforce the required actions through a number of means, including the withholding of Federal financial assistance from WMATA, directing WMATA to use Federal financial assistance to correct safety deficiencies, and mandating restrictions or prohibitions on Metrorail operations (such as imposing speed restrictions or shutting down some or all system operations) to abate a substantial safety risk.
The report and Safety Directive are the latest actions taken by FTA as it provides temporary and direct oversight of WMATA Metrorail and the transit agency’s efforts to improve safety and bring the Metrorail system into a state of good repair.