National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman told a House Oversight subcommittee Thursday that Metro is much safer now than it was at the time of the fatal June 2009 Red Line crash near Fort Totten.
Hersman said WMATA has “done a lot of learning in the last year-plus” and that the much-maligned Metro board “was very willing to listen” and “has been willing to take those lessons to heart.”
Metro interim general manager Richard Sarles, who also testified, agreed that the system was safer, but said there is “a long way to go.” Sarles said employee safety training has been expanded, whistleblower protections have been strengthened, and a new chief safety officer has been installed. He also said he is working with the Amalgamated Transit Union on ways to encourage reporting of near-misses without fear of punishment.
But ATU Local 689 Secretary Anthony Garland said more needs to be done. He said Metro’s solution to high-profile problems has usually been “to increase discipline on the work force,” which hurts morale and does not get at root causes.
In dealing with the aftermath of the 2009 crash, WMATA gets an A for effort. Sarles is really trying to improve things, and his insistence that he does not want the GM post permanently increases his credibility.
But Metro still has “a long way to go” on its pledge of openness with customers and the public. Metro Riders' Advisory Council Chairman Francis DeBernardo told the subcommittee that more outreach is required. But so is greater candor,
Sarles is on record as saying that he doesn’t “want to hide problems.” Metro still does so. Unsuck D.C. Metro says Metro “couldn't seem to get its act together to come up with a simple answer to a relatively simple question” about the decision to pull all 4000-series cars from service. The site also documents excessive delays in several requests for public records.
The Metro system is basically a good one, and some lessons have been learned from the 2009 tragedy. But so far, the need for more openness is not among them. There’s not much sunlight down in the tunnels.