Feds may re­duce Metro grants with­out safety plan

Bet­ter pro­tec­tions for track work­ers, inspectors sought

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

The Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion has threat­ened to cut a quar­ter of Metro’s grant fund­ing if the tran­sit sys­tem fails to put in place a plan to bet­ter pro­tect track work­ers and inspectors.

The move was prompted by at least four in­ci­dents in which vi­o­la­tions to Metro’s safety pro­ce­dures “led to unau­tho­rized work­ers on the road­way and trains en­ter­ing pro­tected work zones at track speed,” the fed­eral agency said in a let­ter to the Washington Met­ro­pol­i­tan Area Tran­sit Author­ity (WMATA).

“I find that un­safe con­di­tions and prac­tices ex­ist that pre­sent a sub­stan­tial risk of death or per­sonal in­jury to road­way work­ers at WMATA,” FTA As­so­ciate Ad­min­is­tra­tor Thomas Lit­tle­ton said in the let­ter.

The most high-profile in­ci­dent oc­curred last year, when a train nearly struck two fed­eral inspectors on the track near Ron­ald Rea­gan Washington Na­tional Air­port.

Due to a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the train op­er­a­tor came around a blind cor­ner go­ing faster than the 10 mph speed limit.

A Metro track worker saw the train and yelled to the other to jump out of the way. No one was hurt in the in­ci­dent.

The FTA di­rected Metro to fix six de­fi­cien­cies, in­clud­ing re­quir­ing the use of at least one re­dun­dant pro­tec­tion method to hold trains out­side of a work zone, re­duc­ing rail con­troller dis­trac­tions and work­load and re­quir­ing 100 per­cent re­peat-back radio pro­to­col for all com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween rail con­trollers, op­er­a­tors and work­ers.

Metro said in a state­ment that it al­ready is work­ing on strength­en­ing worker pro­tec­tions in the sys­tem. Of­fi­cials al­ready have im­ple­mented pro­ce­dures in the Rail Con­trol Cen­ter re­quir­ing con­trollers to doc­u­ment the sig­nals they are can­cel­ing to pro­tect work­ers.

The con­trollers also must record spe­cific trains alerted to per­son­nel on the right of way dur­ing track clo­sures.

“This pro­ce­dure is be­ing rou­tinely au­dited by man­age­ment to en­sure com­pli­ance,” Metro said. “We will pro­vide a full and timely re­sponse to all of the rec­om­men­da­tions in the FTA’s let­ter.”

Metro also said it’s tak­ing other cor­rec­tive ac­tions in­clud­ing im­ple­ment­ing the “Pro­tran tech­nol­ogy warn­ing sys­tem” as a se­condary mea­sure for road­way pro­tec­tion, which is funded through an FTA grant.

The tech­nol­ogy, meant to be a backup to nor­mal safety mea­sures, uses arm­bands that flash as a train ap­proaches giv­ing work­ers ex­tra time to get out of the way.

Metro’s worker union ap­plauded the FTA’s let­ter, saying the agency’s “ob­ser­va­tions about fast mov­ing trains through work zones are only the tip of the ice­berg of the fa­tal flaws and in­ef­fec­tive safety cul­ture at WMATA.”

“It is un­ac­cept­able and dan­ger­ous for WMATA’s flag­ging sys­tem to de­pend on hope and good luck to pro­tect track work­ers,” said Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union Lo­cal 689, which rep­re­sents thou­sands of Metro work­ers. “It is long over­due for WMATA to de­velop an ad­e­quate pri­mary flag­ging sys­tem to pro­vide pos­i­tive pro­tec­tion to warn, slow and hold ap­proach­ing trains un­til all em­ploy­ees are de­ter­mined to be clear of on­com­ing trains.”

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