The Washington Post

Audit dissects Metro lapses

Report: Safety procedure gaffes contribute­d to two train separation­s in 2020

- BY JUSTIN GEORGE

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

 ?? BILL O'LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? A Metro spokesman said the service is working with an oversight agency on plans to overhaul its 7000-series rail cars, one of which is seen above in 2014. An audit from that agency found that a faulty restoratio­n process for 6000-series cars was linked to 2020 train separation­s.
BILL O'LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST A Metro spokesman said the service is working with an oversight agency on plans to overhaul its 7000-series rail cars, one of which is seen above in 2014. An audit from that agency found that a faulty restoratio­n process for 6000-series cars was linked to 2020 train separation­s.

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