Report on Metro safety culture reveals widespread problems and dangerous negligence.

At Clark and Steinhorn, we have followed the "safety culture" of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for years. Our professional interest arose long before the June 22, 2009 Fort Totten Metro crash and will doubtless continue long after.

We are users, observers and occasionally critics and the increased public attention to Metro's operations can only serve to improve them and enhance the safety of it's patrons.

As time has passed since the catastrophic events of June 2009, more attention has been focused on the tragic deaths of Metro track workers. http://www.maryland-law.com/blog/metro-employees-death-brings-to-close-tragic-summer.cfm

We have been critical (as have many others) of the seeming toothlessness of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, responsible for scrutiny of safety issues at Metro and consequently their new report is simultaneously encouraging (yes they are paying attention) and deeply disturbing. 

The systemic problems identified are so widespread as to stun the casual Metro user. Metro train operators speeding up as they approached track workers and safety inspectors, instead of slowing down as mandated by their rules. http://www.maryland-law.com/blog/wow-metro-train-nearly-hits-safety-inspectors.cfm

 There are reports of poor communication from Metro's operational control center concerning the whereabouts of track workers and no ability to confirm that the information was even received by the train operators.

Inadequate training programs are routinely not adhered to. The list is long and the findings disturbing.

It is interesting that the origins of this study occurred long before the Fort Totten disaster. Four Metro employees were killed in 3 separate incidents in 2005 and 2006 at the Dupont Circle, Braddock Road and Eisenhower Avenue stations.

The fact that train operators sped-up in the presence of track workers rather than slow down is simply amazing and borders on gross negligence or reckless conduct. What message does it send to the public and Metro employees that these train operators who narrowly missed the safety inspectors are still operating trains? Maybe they are not but how would we know?

Apparently a culture of "antagonism" exists between track workers and train operators which discourages reports of unsafe train operation and communication about the presence or absence of track workers is erratic and ineffectual.

"Emergency trip stations" for track workers do not work properly and many unique safety issues are not addressed at all.

Training is, well, to be kind, inadequate. Minimal for most workers and ill-coordinated, Metro will require a fundamental rethinking of its track worker or "right of way" training programs. Finding #17 is particularly damning,
"WMATA's employee ROW (right-of-way) safety class curriculum fails to teach WMATA's own rules and procedures."

It is hard to adequately express how significant this problem is particularly when the training involves no "live field component, which is standard practice in virtually all other heavy-rail transit systems in North America."

 In other words we don't teach the rules, we don't follow the rules, the rules we have are not responsive to many problems and we don't practice carrying out the rules in the real world.

The Washington Post editorial of January 7, 2010 says it all "Asleep at the Switch." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/07/AR2010010703847.html