Metro Operator Runs Red Signal, Could Be Fired

A Metro train operator could be out of a job after running a red signal on Metro's tracks.

The red signal violation happened about 11 a.m. March 3 at the Silver Spring Metro station, and it has prompted Metro to make an immediate engineering fix, News4 has learned.

As the eight-car Metro train entered what's known as a pocket --or middle -- track, it ran past a red signal.

"When it got to the red light, it overshot it by 3 feet," General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told News4. "Yes, it overshot the red light. We never want that."

The passengers on the train had to be offloaded, and the train operator was taken off the job immediately. The train operator could also be terminated.

According to Metro, the train entered the pocket track in an automatic control mode, which is not supposed to happen. Eight-car trains are only supposed to enter a pocket track in a manual mode. The underlying issue is that pocket tracks provide very little wiggle room to fit an eight-car train, and the automatic technology has shown that it may not be completely precise.

"The next day we went in and changed the software so that if [an operator] is at a station and he is in automatic train operation and it's telling him to go into the pocket track, basically he will not be able to move in automatic train operation any longer," said Wiedefeld. "His speed commands will say zero and that means the operator will have to switch over to manual operation to move."

Metro said the train entered the pocket track as it attempted to move around track work. There was never any danger the train would hit another train or end up on the wrong track.

However, the issue is particularly concerning to Red Line operations, which recently returned to limited automatic operations for the first time since the deadly 2009 Red Line crash.

This latest red light violation also comes a month after a Metro train operator ran a red light signal and got dangerously close to another train at the Smithsonian station. That violation drew a concerned response from Metro's board and safety leaders.

After the March 3 incident, Metro's rail managers are being reminded to tell train operators to only enter pocket tacks in manual mode.

"Just seeing this, we have to review all the procedures that we use," says Wiedefeld. "What are we putting on the operator when we are using technology? Generally, we use technology to take those decisions out of the operators hands to reduce the potential for human error."

In this case, however, Metro wants the humans to step in.  

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