The Metro system defect that caused the derailment of an empty train last week, causing massive delays, was detected in early July but not repaired, Metro Interim General Manager and CEO Jack Requa said Wednesday.
A track condition known as "wide gauge," meaning the track wasn't aligned, caused the derailment. At the location of the defect, the train's wheels lost contact with the rail.
“I don’t want to mince words, but this is totally unacceptable,” Requa said.
When the defect was detected, that section of track should have been taken out of service, according to Metro. Requa condemned the failure to fix the problem when it was identified.
"When the investigation concludes, we will take all appropriate actions necessary to ensure accountability, from organizational changes to any appropriate personnel actions, and that may include termination," he said.
Metro's Board of Directors released the following statement Thursday:
“The Board is outraged and dismayed that anyone working at Metro would have critical safety information and not act on it immediately. It is totally unacceptable that the wide gauge track problem reported yesterday by the General Manager could go unaddressed and unrepaired for four weeks. This is a breakdown of the organization’s chain of command and our safety culture. We obviously have much work ahead of us to improve the organization’s safety culture, and we will do so,” said Metro Safety Committee Chair Michael Goldman, speaking on behalf of the Board. “However, Jack Requa’s transparent release of information, as well as his actions to order immediate track inspections and gather information to hold people accountable at every level, is what the Board expects and what the circumstances demand.
“The Board has directed the General Manager to complete his operational investigation within 10 days that will explain to the Board and our riders how this track deficiency went unrepaired for so long. The Board looks forward to learning how the chain of command broke down and where the responsibility lies. This is an unforgivable breach of safety that needs to be dealt with firmly and swiftly.”
Metro riders told News4's Jackie Bensen they were dismayed by the latest scandal.
"We should be safe. We're paying money for something. Where's that money going?" a rider at the Clarendon station Wednesday night said.
Sources at Metro told transportation reporter Adam Tuss that trains carrying passengers traveled over that same section of track in the weeks after the defect was identified and could have derailed with passengers on board.
Requa said that when misalignment was considered a possible cause over the weekend, he ordered system-wide emergency track inspections.
"We have been calling for an enhanced safety culture since the 2009 Red Line incident (when nine people were killed when one train crashed into a a stopped train on the Red Line)," Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 spokesman Dave Stephen said. "This is what happens when you don't have a safety culture. We look forward to the outcome of the investigation to determine why this situation was not handled."
Blue, Orange and Silver line service was suspended for much of Thursday between McPherson Square and Federal Center SW after an empty train derailed outside the Smithsonian that morning. The Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations were closed for most of the day.
A six-car train was getting ready to turn around at a crossover point called an interlocking when three of the cars went off the track by about a foot. The cars remained upright.
The train was coming from a rail yard and was about to start picking up passengers for the morning commute when the cars derailed.
The train's operator was not injured in the derailment.
The derailed cars are older models, from the 1000- and 2000-series. They were in good working order and not a factor in the derailment, Requa said.
The operation of the train was not a factor, either.
Riders who used SmarTrip cards on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines have been reimbursed, Requa said. That's about 158,000 customres at an average of $4.75 per trip for a total of about $750,000.