Metro red light violations are often caused by operators who get distracted by their thoughts and fail to see what is right in front of them, according to investigators who were tasked with explaining why so many trains keep running red lights.
The Federal Transit Administration says there have been at least 47 red light violations since the beginning of 2012, The Washington Post reports.
Metro officials hired a neuroscientist and safety expert to try to get to the bottom of the problem. Their investigation, which was obtained by the newspaper through a public records request, show that train operators consistently left a platform or stop "without full conscious awareness" of their actions.
"A lot of times, people don't realize that when they're tuning out -- and it can be something as simple as mind wandering -- people don't realize this actually puts them at risk," said Daniel Smilek, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. Smilek and his partner Randall Jamieson run the Atticus Consulting Group and were hired by Metro officials.
Investigators found that a "systemic cause" in most cases of the red light violations was what one operator called "big rush-rush culture'' of the Metro. The report also said miscommunication is being caused by inadequate supervision of operators and controllers.
Train operators are now given more time to perform safety checks before their first ride. A new system also allows operators to hand off their train to a colleague if they need relief.
Metro's deputy general manager said this month before announcing his resignation that even one red light violation is unacceptable. He said officials have increased training and taken other steps to remind operators that red means stop.
In "every operating environment -- whether it be aviation, freight railroads, transit railroads, class-one railroads, truck drivers, it doesn't matter -- the human-error element is the hardest thing that you deal with," Troup said.