FTA Directs WMATA to Fix Tunnel Safety, Worker Protection Issues

What to Know

  • The FTA inspection found a partially- or non-functioning lights on tunnel walls, discharged and expired fire extinguishers in tunnels.
  • The inspection found there was not compliance with roadway worker protection, including unsafe train speeds near workers.
  • The FTA directed WMATA to have a plan in place within 10 days to fix the safety features.

The Federal Transit Administration has highlighted more than 220 defects during a Metro inspection, according to a letter sent to Paul Wiedefeld, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

The letter, sent from Thomas Littleton, associate administrator for the FTA, identified critical concerns of the FTA regarding fire and safety equipment and worker protection that caused the agency to direct WMATA to take immediate action.

The FTA inspection found a high percentage of partially- or non-functioning lights on tunnel walls, discharged and expired fire extinguishers in the tunnels as well as material stored in emergency walkways and missing third rail safety coverboards.

“Specifically, as a communicated to you Friday, April 15, the FTA is directing WMATA immediately to: (1) inspect and correct the degraded condition of fire/life safety equipment and features in the Metrorail tunnels, and (2) conduct a safety briefing for all employees who work along the right-of-way, operate trains, or authorize train movements to make sure they understand the rules in place to protect workers on the tracks,” the letter stated.

Regarding worker safety, the inspection discovered speed restrictions by trains were not being followed as they approached work crews on the tracks, hand signals were not used correctly, and briefings did not alert crews when situations or protections changed.

The FTA directed WMATA to have a plan in place within 10 days to fix the safety features and conduct safety briefings for employees no later than Friday, April 22.


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Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly sent a response to News4’s Adam Tuss.

“Metro was briefed by FTA and all safety critical items are receiving priority attention. The employee safety briefings will be conducted this week and the items that require track outages are being incorporated into the General Manager’s track plan that is in development. The plan will lay out the work being performed, set clear timetables for completion and provide customers with the advance information they need to prepare for impacts to service.”

First responders in D.C. were shocked when the list of safety concerns was released. Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association – IAFF Local 36, said on a good day, there was an extra level of anxiety when firefighters head into the Metro system, but it is ramped up more by the litany of safety issues.

“All of these little safety issues end up building into one tragic moment is what happens,” Smith said. “And it is troubling.”

Wiedefeld hired Patrick Lavin as Metro’s new chief safety officer. Lavin comes to Metro from New York City Transit (NYCT), where he is second in command of the agency’s Office of System Safety.

“Basically, he had spent two decades working in the tunnels so there’s nothing, probably, he hasn’t seen,” Wiedefeld said. “He brings that to the table, which I think is very valuable.”

Wiedefeld believes Lavin will have an impact when he starts on May 9.

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