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'Close Call' Reporting System In Works For WMATA

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Officials hope that an anonymous reporting system can lessen Metro delays from breakdowns and potentially save lives.
Steve Fernie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/albinoflea/344845891/
Officials hope that an anonymous reporting system can lessen Metro delays from breakdowns and potentially save lives.

 The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is drawing closer to fulfilling a key recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board after the deadly 2009 Red Line crash.

The transit authority is completing a memorandum of understanding with its unionized rail workers to establish a confidential "close call" reporting system to catch potential safety hazards that would otherwise go undetected by Metro's usual safety reporting systems.

The reporting system would allow Metro employees to report problems without fear of retribution.

"This is a partnership with our union, Local 689 Amalgamated Transit Union, and we are working out a memorandum of understanding with the union to determine the parameters of the program," said Andrea Burnside, Metro's chief performance officer. "It is very important to have it confidential because employees will not be willing to participate in the program."

Exactly what would constitute a "close call" is being hammered out in negotiations with the union, Burnside said.

Improving safety — and convincing the public their safety on the rail lines is being taken seriously — ranks as a Metro priority since the Red Line crash. The transit authority approached the Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics (U.S. Department of Transportation) for help in creating the "close call" reporting program.

The first passenger rail system in the country to experiment with a confidential reporting system was New Jersey Transit in 2009.

"We are getting a positive response," said New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder, who said their pilot program is creating a culture where employees are more apt to report problems from the serious to the more routine.

"When they see some infrastructure issues they report it to us. They don t have to worry about any type of reprimand," Snyder said. "Rail yard efficiencies have improved. We're getting improved safety in and around our yards as well as operational efficiencies during our morning rush hours and afternoon rush hours."

Based on New Jersey Transit's program, the U.S. DOT estimates it may receive 400 close call reports each year in D.C., but Burnside cautions that Metro's system is different than New Jersey's, and the definition of what would constitute a "close call" on Metro rail has yet to be determined.

A potential start date for Metro's program has not been established.

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