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and certifying personnel authorized to operate trains on all active railcar fleets,” and that staff operate with outdated copies of Metrorail’s Safety Rules and Procedures Handbook.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.
The final touches are being made on the King Street-Old Town Metro Access Improvement Project.
On-site bus route testing will begin later this month, and bus service to new shelters will start in early June, according to the city. Contractor Fort Myer Construction Corporation was supposed to have finished the project last spring.
“There is no date for a ribbon cutting yet, but we are making progress,” Camila Olivares, a communications associate with the city’s Department of Transportation & Environmental Services, told ALXnow. “Staff is increasingly confident the project will be substantially complete this summer.”
Olivares said that the city will provide additional updates on the project this week.
Rendering via City of Alexandria
Updated at 3:20 p.m. — An adult woman suffered minor injuries after an altercation with another woman on the platform of the King Street-Old Town Metro station in Old Town on Friday.
Alexandria Police and the Metro Transit Police Department responded to the incident at around noon.
According to MTP, the victim was struck with a cane or a pole and was transported to the hospital.
The suspect was identified as 41-year-old Jessica Williamson, 41, of Round Rock, Texas. Police said she was carrying a round metal object when she was arrested, and was charged with assault and battery.
One of the most visible congestion points in the city is about to get revamped.
On Tuesday, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved roadway improvements the the intersection of King Street, Russell Road and Callahan Drive, as well as a conversion to one-way for the service road leading up to the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.
“I think it’ll be safer for one and all,” Alexandria City Councilwoman Del Pepper said.
Roadway improvements in the area include:
- Signal timing optimization to reduce vehicle delay by 45 seconds
- Upgraded crosswalks and pedestrian signals
- A curb extension for shorter crossing and to slow turning vehicles
- Bike facilities through the intersection
Improvements at the intersection have been in the works since 2015, when the city received a $1.2 million Federal Transit Administration grant. The next few years were spent collecting and analyzing data, and were met with delays due to “the combination of staff capacity and implementation of the King Street Metro Improvements Project and the 2019 Metro Summer Shutdown,” according to a city staff report.
The George Washington National Masonic Memorial Association wanted the access road shut down to vehicle traffic.
“Part of this project involves the access road around the traffic island, which connects the Memorial’s driveway to Callahan Drive,” the Association wrote in a letter to Council. “While the Memorial Association believes the modifications before Council for approval are a positive step, it is the viewpoint of the Memorial Association that this access road, which is used by motorists as a way to circumvent the traffic light at King and Callahan, should be permanently closed to vehicle traffic.”
Christopher Ziemann, the city’s Transportation Planning Division chief, said that the one-way conversion was a compromise.
Mayor Justin Wilson said that the traffic island in the center of the intersection will not be impacted, as it is designated as a national historic landmark.
“I think this is a step forward and certainly enjoys broad-based community support, which is great,” he said. “I appreciate staff’s efforts to build consensus on the changes on this intersection. I know this has been a long time coming.”
The infamously troubled King Street-Old Town Metro Access Improvement Project could finish in the next few months after a full year of delays.
The contractor for the project is Fort Myer Construction Corporation (FMCC), and officials haven’t been shy about calling the contractor out for dropping the ball on the project.
“That contractor doing that work has failed the city in a variety of ways,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a recent town hall. “We’re pursuing all options to make sure that contractor adheres to their obligations under that contract and makes the taxpayers of the city whole for the delay and for the failures of that contract. It’s a bad contractor experience and going to do everything we can to ensure the tax payers of the city and get that project done.”
Lydia Durand, a management analyst with the Department of Project Implementation, acknowledged the project’s troubled history but said that staff are overseeing the contractor’s work.
“This project has been a challenge and the contractor continues to be behind schedule,” Durand said. “FMCC’s latest schedule indicates that they will achieve substantial completion this Spring. Staff continue to closely oversee the contractor’s work to ensure the City receives the project to the quality level required by the contract.”
The goal of the project is to add capacity and new safety measures to the often crowded bus loop, where a woman was fatally struck in 2010.
(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) Alexandria Police have reopened the area of King Street between Callahan Drive and Daingerfield Road after investigating a report of a suspicious package.
Police closed the area near the King St-Old Town Metro Station and the city’s Union Station after a report earlier of a suspicious package around 11:35 a.m.
ALERT:: ⚠️ King Street is closed between Callahan Dr and Daingerfield Rd as we assist Amtrak with an investigation into a suspicious package on the tracks. We'll provide updates on the road closure.
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) March 8, 2021
UPDATE:: King Street has reopened between Callahan Dr. and Daingerfield Rd. from the suspicious package investigation. The package has been retrieved. There was no threat to public safety.
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) March 8, 2021
Two men have been arrested after allegedly trying to resell stolen cars and nearly running over an Alexandria Police officer.
Michael Daugherty, an 18-year-old resident of Washington, D.C., and a 20-year-old man from Prince George’s County, Maryland, were arrested on Dec. 7 after allegedly fleeing the Yasini Auto Gallery near the King Street-Old Town Metro station in a stolen white Toyota RAV4.
The suspects allegedly refused an Alexandria Police officer’s order to stop and nearly hit him, according to a search warrant affidavit. The vehicle was later found abandoned less than a half mile away on Roberts Lane near the Mason Garden Apartments.
Alexandria Police have connected the incident with the November theft of multiple cars that were listed on the OfferUp website. In those cases, owners who advertised their vehicles for sale on OfferUP met the suspects at predetermined locations and were given false checks of up to $22,000. The suspects then drove away in the cars and at least one of the cars was listed on the same website.
The auto gallery ended up buying a Chevrolet Camaro for $4,000 that had been stolen on Nov. 4 after the victim had been given a false check for $23,000. The auto gallery then posted the car for sale on its OfferUp profile.
“We gonna bring you more cars anyway but we want at least 5 (thousand dollars for the Camaro),” the suspects allegedly told the Yasini representative, according to the affidavit.
After being contacted about the stolen car by Alexandria Police, the owner of the dealership reported on Dec. 7 that two of the suspects responsible for selling the vehicles were trying to sell him another one.
“Police arrived on scene… and attempted to stop the individuals in the vehicle by commanding them to stop after receiving confirmation they were the suspects,” police reported in the affidavit. “The vehicle did not stop and almost struck the officers attempting to stop the vehicle.”
Police found the suspects near the abandoned RAV4 and confirmed their identities by getting their cell phone numbers from the owner of the dealership.
Daugherty was released on bond on Dec. 8 after being charged with attempted assault on law enforcement, receiving/buying stolen goods and failure to remain at an accident involving property damage. The 20-year-old suspect was charged with violating a protective order and was released on bond that same day.
The city anticipates that there will be more delays with the completion of the King Street-Old Town Metro Access Improvements Project.
City staff are skeptical that the first phase of the project will be completed by this December.
“We have what the contractor has stated, and what we what our observations are,” Terry Suehr, the city’s director of the Department of Project Implementation, told Council on Tuesday night. “They’ve stated December… They have not proven themselves able to keep on the schedule.”
The first phase of construction — eventually resulting in the opening of a brand new bus loop — was initially supposed to be finished last spring. A second phase includes lighting and landscape improvements, a new kiss & ride, and areas for car shares, taxis and shuttles.
The city website states that the full project will be finished by spring 2021.
Suehr said the city will have additional costs because of the delay, and staff are working up estimates. She is also now requiring the contractor to provide bi-weekly updates on their progress against a set schedule.
Rendering via City of Alexandria
The completion of the King Street-Old Town Metro Access Improvements Project will likely be delayed past August, but it’s not clear for how long.
“This project is continuing forward,” Terry Suehr, the city’s director of the Department of Project Implementation, told City Council on Tuesday night. “The contractor continues to report that they are on schedule and are showing the schedule that shows them completing in August, but based on our observations of the progress that they’re making we suspect that they will not finish in August, so just notifying you all that we we do suspect that there will either be requesting extensions or we’ll be having to deal with contract measures to penalize them for not finishing on time.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said he hopes the city will be recouped for additional extensions due to the delay.
The construction project has nearly completely taken over the entrance to the Metro station, and has redirected bus bays and eliminated the metered parking and kiss & ride areas.
The first phase was supposed to be finished in March, but the start of construction was delayed by two months. It included the opening of a brand new bus loop. The second phase includes lighting and landscape improvements, a new kiss & ride and areas for car shares, taxis and shuttles.
This project has been in the works since 2006. The city council and planning commission approved the design concept in 2012, and the project is part of the city’s Vision Zero initiative by aiming to provide a safer and visually appealing environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders.
Staff photo by James Cullum
The news comes after a Metro Transit Police Officer tested positive for the virus on Monday.
“We are working closely with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and local health organizations to both monitor the individual and to take precautions to ensure that colleagues in Metro’s District II police facility near Franconia-Springfield,” Metro said in a statement.
“To be clear, Metro intends to be there to provide service for essential trips in our community — as long as it is safe and appropriate to do so,” stated Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld. “If everyone does their part and stays home whenever possible, Metro will be there for hospital staff and other heroes who need us at this unprecedented moment in our lives.”
As of Wednesday, all Metro stations will be closing an hour earlier and will be open weekdays from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“Metro ridership was down nearly 70 percent across the board yesterday,” Metro announced Tuesday. “As a result, starting tomorrow, service will be further reduced – on both bus and rail – to allow even more cleaning and to reduce sharing of workspaces and vehicles for employee safety.”
Additionally, all Metro administrative employees are now teleworking, and trains are operating every 15 minutes throughout the day. All trains will run with 8 cars to “help maintain social distancing between customers.”
The system’s two rail operations control centers will also monitor platforms and trains for potential crowding. All track work has either been reduced or canceled, with the exception of emergency maintenance and inspection work. Metro is also recommending against taking trains and buses to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which has already canceled a number of its events next month
These days, local commuter Celeste Byrd’s trip on the Metro is easy. Even though trains are operating at the King St-Old Town Metro station every 12 minutes, the trains are mostly empty.
“I really sanitize before I leave for work and I change clothes as soon as I get home,” Byrd told ALXnow while walking from the King Street station on Monday afternoon after work. “Metro is really keeping the stations clean. It feels like a hospital-type scenario.”
The 44-year-old Alexandria resident arrives at the King St-Old Town Metro station at around 9 a.m. during the week for her job as a receptionist for an Arlington psychiatrist.
“I didn’t know that the elevator doors at the Ballston Metro station were bronze. They used to be black and now they are thoroughly clean. You can smell the disinfectant all over,” Byrd said.
URGENT: METRO SERVICE FURTHER REDUCED TO SUPPORT *ESSENTIAL TRIPS ONLY* — EFFECTIVE TOMORROW (WEDNESDAY) | INFO: https://t.co/xIzpCBOjBn #WMATA #dc #md #va #coronavirus #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/kFCZXDyt3y
— Metro (@wmata) March 17, 2020
The transit system will also not be accepting job applications during the shutdown, as its MetroAccess Eligibility Center will be closed until further notice.
Metro is operating in Phase 3 of its Pandemic Flu Plan — the highest level of response that “will include all subsequent mitigation steps,” according to a Monday press release. “Metro expects to be at Phase 3 until further notice. Phase 4 is the ‘recovery phase’ of the plan that involves Metro’s return to normal operations after the situation is under control.”
Tuesday’s full release is below.
Metro’s Pandemic Task Force today announced major service reductions during the ongoing pandemic response. The changes further draw-down service to protect frontline employees, while maintaining regional mobility for essential trips taken by hospital staff, government officials, and emergency responders. The reduction takes into account the urgent public guidance from regional leaders, along with emergency orders to cancel events, close schools and offices, and limit social gatherings across the nation.
Our region is speaking with one voice: Stay home. Essential travel only.
Metro ridership was down nearly 70 percent across the board yesterday. As a result, starting tomorrow, service will be further reduced – on both bus and rail – to allow even more cleaning and to reduce sharing of workspaces and vehicles for employee safety. For the first time, the Metro Task Force will reduce rail system hours with an earlier closing time across the week.
“As members of our community stay home from work, school and social gatherings – following the critical emergency guidance of Governors Hogan and Northam and Mayor Bowser – Metro will reduce service and implement measures to reduce risk for employees and the public,” said Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld. “To be clear, Metro intends to be there to provide service for essential trips in our community – as long as it is safe and appropriate to do so. If everyone does their part and stays home whenever possible, Metro will be there for hospital staff and other heroes who need us at this unprecedented moment in our lives.”
Specifically, the Task Force is urging the public to NOT travel to the Cherry Blossom Festival to keep Metro’s limited capacity available for essential travel (e.g. doctors, nurses, essential governmental functions, etc.). Metro reserves the right to close stations near the Tidal Basin at any time to reduce the use of Metro for tourist trips.
In addition, Metro is acting urgently to further reduce the number of employees required at any time and working to create additional redundancy in Metro’s workforce to protect service continuity.
“The actions directed by the Task Force today will help Metro return to normal service when the pandemic emergency is over and our region begins to recover,” said Theresa M. Impastato, Metro’s Chief Safety Officer, who is leading Metro’s response to the pandemic and advising the General Manager.
Effective tomorrow (Wednesday, March 18)–and continuing until further notice–Metro service will operate as follows:
- Rail system hours and service levels are further reduced to support ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY. DO NOT TRAVEL UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY and follow guidance from your state and local authorities.
- New hours: Weekdays 5AM-11PM, Sat/Sun 8AM-11PM
- Trains will run every 15 minutes on each line at all times, including the Red Line. All trains will operate with 8 cars, the maximum possible length, to help maintain social distancing between customers.
- Metro’s Rail Operations Control Centers (two) will actively monitor trains and station platforms for any possible crowding, something that has not been an issue at any point during the pandemic emergency response.
- Metro is reducing/cancelling track work, except emergency maintenance and inspections, to avoid unexpected delays and maintain 15-minute intervals between trains.
- Bus hours and service levels are further reduced to support ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY. DO NOT TRAVEL UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY and follow guidance from your state and local authorities.
- Buses will operate on a Sunday schedule, with supplemental service on selected routes to prevent crowding and ensure areas are not cut off. Visit wmata.com for information about “supplemental” routes that will operate, in addition to Sunday routes.
- IMPORTANT: Bus operators are granted the authority to bypass bus stops to maintain safe social distancing aboard the vehicle.
- These actions reduce the number of Metro employees and buses required to maintain service by more than 60 percent.
- All subscription trips are cancelled until further notice. Customers with a critical need to travel should make a separate reservation calling 301-562-5360 (TTY 301-588-7535) or via the online reservation system.
- Customers are strongly encouraged to travel ONLY IF ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.
IF YOU ARE NOT FEELING WELL OR HAVE ANY SYMPTOMS OF ILLNESS, YOU MUST AVOID TAKING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. THIS INCLUDES METROACCESS CUSTOMERS. Instead, do the following:
- CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER BEFORE LEAVING YOUR HOME. Do NOT show up without calling first. Your healthcare provider may want to send you to an alternate location.
- FOLLOW YOUR PROVIDER’S INSTRUCTIONS. DON’T USE PUBLIC TRANSIT. Let your doctor’s office know if you have transportation needs. They will provide instructions for you to get help. Again, to protect the health and safety our employees, their families, and your fellow passengers, do not use Metro if you are not feeling well.
Due to the emergency service adjustments, Metro’s online trip planner, electronic bus information displays and third-party app-based services may not immediately reflect the schedule changes taken by the Pandemic Task Force. Metro is not adjusting fares, despite service reductions.
“We want everyone to follow the guidance of state and local leaders. Stay home. Travel only if it’s essential and limit your exposure to others,” Impastato said. “The health and well-being of our employees and riders is paramount, and our team will continue to work around the clock to prioritize public health and safety in Metro’s response to this unprecedented emergency.”
Metro has already taken the following steps to protect the health and safety of its frontline employees:
- Increased Metro’s on-hand warehouse inventory of essential supplies, such as hospital-grade disinfectant, wipes, face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other items used by Metro’s front-line employees.
- Allowing Station Managers to remain in kiosks at all times to minimize their public exposure. Access to kiosks–even among Metro employees–has been further restricted.
- Closed all public restroom access systemwide.
- Giving Bus Operators discretion to bypass bus stops if their vehicle is too crowded to maintain safe social distancing.
- Directed train operators to remain in operating cabs except in an emergency.
- All Metrobuses are equipped with protective safety shields for operators and are to remain closed.
- Implemented mandatory telework for most job functions.
- Banned visitors and non-essential access to buildings and worksites.