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Metro derailment in Alexandria among safety lapses outlined in scathing audit of transit system

A six-car Metrorail train hit a contractor work unit and derailed in the Alexandria Rail Yard in 2020 because an interlocking train operator was watching a movie trailer on an electronic device.

There were no injuries, but the February 10, 2020, incident is included in a scathing audit of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority by the Washington Metropolitan Safety Commission, which found “a culture that accepts noncompliance with written operational rules, instructions, and manuals.”

The audit identified several “safety gaps” related to staff training and certification requirements. It was compiled by WMSC staff and led by Chief Executive Officer David Mayer, and 14 recommendations were issued after finding that the transit system is “not meeting its own written requirements, does not have adequate procedures, processes or requirements, or does not have adequate training, coordination and supervision.”

The Alexandria Rail Yard incident occurred a month before the WMATA would be rocked by the pandemic and largely suspend its services. The operator was retrained on proper communication procedures 10 days after the incident, and a 2020 report detailing the incident outlines existing issues WMSC found with the transit system in the recent audit — namely a lack of proper training, radio protocols and oversight.

“In addition to this example at Alexandria Rail Yard, RTRA (the Office of Rail Transportation) managers interviewed for this audit were not familiar with the existence of hazard logs that Metrorail submitted to the WMSC as part of this audit, and several managers were not sure what hazards are supposed to be reported to them,” the audit determined.

Lack of oversight and training

The audit also found that WMATA is “not effectively training and certifying personnel authorized to operate trains on all active railcar fleets,” and that staff operate with outdated copies of Metrorail’s Safety Rules and Procedures Handbook.

The audit revealed “confusion related to the proper signals and rail alignment” at the King Street-Old Town Metro station in February 2021. A train operator incorrectly followed a route set for the Huntington station, and an investigation determined that the engineer for the territory had “inadequate training.”

“Metrorail does not effectively identify, track, communicate and address operational hazards as required by its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan,” the audit found.

The audit recommends that Metro must develop better training procedures for personnel, and replace safety equipment with expired calibration dates, including electrical safety gloves.

“Metrorail must develop, require, and implement effective territory familiarization and physical characteristics training and take steps such as territory-specific certification to ensure adequate knowledge of physical characteristics prior to assigning operations personnel (such as train operators, rail supervisors, terminal supervisors, and interlocking operators) work on a line, in a terminal or in a yard,” the audit said.

The transit system is now required to develop a corrective action plan for the outlying issues no later than 30 days after release of the audit.

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