New safety concerns at Metro surfaced July 29, as a train derailment left commuters scrambling to find alternative ways to work and shut down the East Falls Church station in Northern Virginia. While the incident, which left one rider injured, further vexed commuters already inconvenienced by system-wide repair slowdowns, a new report indicates continued breaches in safety protocol.
In this photo taken Nov. 16, 2015, passengers ride a Washington Metro train. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The East Falls Church derailment occurred just hours after Metro’s new chief safety officer, Patrick Lavin, described a series of mistakes made by operators that could have proven disastrous at the board’s July 28 meeting. In what Lavin described as “ongoing problems with red signal violations,” he detailed a near head-on collision on July 5, that stemmed from an operator, agitated that he could not take a scheduled break, driving through red light signals and operating the train with his radio silenced.
The Glenmont-bound Red Line train allegedly entered a switch that had changed direction moments before. The train then traveled at 12 mph causing two roadway workers to jump out of the way and onto the elevated platform against the wall. As the train kept moving, the workers realized the train wasn’t authorized to keep moving, and began screaming for the operator to stop. The operator heard those yells, and the train halted 300 feet past the workers. “It was the two track workers on the track yelling at the train operator that finally captured his attention,” Lavin said in a statement.
Another train had been headed in an oncoming direction but had stopped after receiving an emergency radio alert from the operations command center. The two trains came to a stop 2,000 feet away from one another. Lavin also reported that when passengers were removed from the cars, Metro engineers neglected to de-energize the third rail, exposing them to potential electrocution. “I don’t think ‘red signal violation’ truly captures what happened. This was flagrant,” Lavin told the Washington Post. “It turned into this childish debate. It wasn’t this rush-rush mentality put on by management . . . He was concerned for a different reason.”
The train operator was fired, and five employees, were reportedly, disciplined for inadequately following safety protocol. “WMATA has to retrain its entire workforce – management needs to understand they have humans working the system and the employees need to understand that they have the lives of their passengers in their hands,” Ward 6 resident Mary Sands told the AFRO. “I have seen buses run through lights and nearly run over pedestrians trying to keep to a schedule. Losing life and limb is not worth a schedule.”
General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said experts from Metro, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Transit Administration, as well as an outside consultant brought in by the transit agency, are looking into several possibilities as to why the train derailed including excessive heat, operator error, and track conditions. “Environment, heat — we had a lot of rain the past few days,” Wiedefeld said. “It starts with the human . We’re looking at ties, at fasteners, at all the switches. All that will be looked at.”