The Washington Post
Audit dissects Metro lapses
Report: Safety procedure gaffes contributed to two train separations in 2020
Metro mechanics, engineers and technicians do not keep organized records or follow a set of safety procedures when maintaining, inspecting and rebuilding rail cars, contributing to dangerous mishaps such as the separation of two trains last year, according to a new audit.
The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, an agency that Congress created to monitor safety at the transit agency, released a 44-page audit Tuesday analyzing Metro’s rail car maintenance practices. The audit, which included a look at Metro’s troubled and indefinitely suspended 6000-series cars, pinpointed 12 problem areas and ordered Metro to submit corrective action plans in 30 days.
Conducted this year, the audit reviewed Metro’s inspection, maintenance and engineering
processes, as well as how it trains employees to work on cars. Safety commission officials said their analysis was based on employee interviews and reviews of Metro records and data.
Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said the transit agency is reviewing the findings of the audit, adding “we remain committed to continuous improvement of our programs and enhancing the safety of the system.”
The audit is the fifth released this year by the safety commission, coming at a time when Metro and transit agencies across the country are hoping to lure back riders returning to offices amid the coronavirus pandemic. Metrorail weekday ridership last week — excluding Monday, which saw unusually low ridership on Labor Day — was about 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
In the safety commission’s most recent report Tuesday, the most serious findings involved how Metro had rehabilitated and overhauled its 6000-series rail cars.
Built nearly 20 years ago, that series is Metro’s sixth model of rail cars. It went through a restoration and rehabilitation process a few years ago — as most of Metro’s rail cars do — when they had reached the halfway point of their 40-year service lives.
Safety inspectors said the restoration included use of wrongsize parts on some cars, while others had parts improperly torqued in their couplers, which are used to connect rail cars. Inspectors have said the repairs contributed to Red Line rail-car separations on Oct. 9 and Nov. 24, both of which caused major delays but no significant injuries.
Metro and safety commission investigations also have linked the separation of a 6000-series train in 2018 near the Mclean station to the restoration process.
“Metrorail did not follow its safety certification processes for the 6000-Series rehabilitation and overhaul project,” according to the audit. All 184 6000-series trains were grounded in November after the last separation because of the pull-aparts and discoveries of loose parts on multiple trains. They made up about 15 percent of Metro’s fleet.
Jannetta said Metro is working with the commission on a safety certification process that would allow the transit agency to restore the 6000-series cars.
Despite Metro’s awareness of the missteps in overhauling rail cars, the audit claims, the transit agency is developing a similar rehabilitation project for the 7000-series cars, which were introduced in 2015 and make up the majority of the rail-car stock. But auditors said Metro is drawing up those plans without input or participation from its own safety department.
Jannetta said Metro is working with the safety commission on its plan to overhaul the 7000series cars.
The audit also said more broadly that Metro is not requiring or receiving all necessary parts and tools from original equipment manufacturers, does not have an organized system of keeping records that document work orders before starting railcar maintenance projects, and lacks a systematic way to make sure mechanics and engineers are trained for the tasks they are assigned.
Responsibilities among Metro’s chief mechanical officer, its incident investigation team and its workers who probe unusual occurrences are conflicting and not clearly defined, affecting important investigations, the safety commission report said.
Auditors said Metro doesn’t have audio and video recorders in rail-car operating compartments — as the National Transportation Safety Board recommends — and doesn’t have a standard process for when significant vibrations or bouncing that can damage track and rail cars occurs during rides. The 7000-series cars, which were custom-designed and built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Rolling Stock of Japan, cost about $2 million each. Metro has 748 of them.
Metro, however, is moving in the right direction amid efforts to improve safety within the rail system, auditors said.
According to the report, Metro is operating a mentor and technical skills program, improving collaboration between engineers and mechanics and incorporating more than 600 lessons learned from the 7000-series trains — such as lightening the cars so they don’t wear down infrastructure and adding a sideview cab camera — into its plans for the yet-to-be-built 8000-series trains. Metro also keeps consistent minutes of meetings of its safety committee, regularly produces and distributes rail-car reliability reports, and relies on checklists for facility inspections.
Employees interviewed expressed the importance of safety in their work, auditors said.
“Metrorail did not follow its safety certification processes for the 6000-Series rehabilitation and overhaul project.” Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, in a 44-page audit released Tuesday