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First Deadlines Loom Over Metro To Fix Bus And Rail Safety Problems

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Metro says it will meet the first of more than 70 deadlines to comply with federal safety findings, including a requirement to establish a policy banning the distracting use of cell phones and other mobile devices in its Rail Operations Control Center, the transit authority’s version of an air traffic control tower.

The initial deadlines in the corrective action plan — designed to improve both passenger and worker safety — are at the end of January.

Metro was required to create the plan by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) after the latter agency conducted a safety review last year uncovering scores of problems across Metro’s rail and bus systems. The review was spurred by the fatal smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza in Jan. 2015.

Between now and September 2019, Metro must submit plans to correct 72 problems, according to an FTA tracking chart that is updated a couple times per month.

This month Metro had to submit plans to address the following:

  • Assaults on bus drivers “at a level commensurate with the number of occurrences.”
  • Personal cell phones use by rail traffic controllers in the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC).

A transit authority spokesman said a third corrective action listed under the January deadlines, dealing with testing Metro’s backup ROCC, actually is due next month.

On Thursday the Metro board of directors is scheduled to receive an update on Metro’s progress handling the FTA findings.

Michael Goldman, chairman of the board’s safety panel, said the program will help Metro establish a safety culture that critics say is absent.

“The proof will be in the pudding. It's not just checking off blocks and saying we have implemented the corrective action plan,” Goldman said. “It is the follow-through to make sure it is implemented in a way that turns out to be 100 percent effective so we achieve the objectives of increasing passenger and worker safety.”

The task will require extra staff at a time of tight budgets. Metro is planning to hire more than 60 personnel at a cost of more than $15 million.

“Our principle concern was full staffing of the ROCC,” said Goldman. “I’ve been advised we have hired the necessary employees to bring the ROCC up to full staffing and we are now going through the training for those people.”

The corrective plans submitted by Metro are subject to federal review before the problem is considered resolved.

“When FTA receives a request to close a particular corrective action, the FTA verification process will then commence. The time frame for FTA verification will vary depending on the particular corrective action under review and will result in either the item being closed or being sent back to WMATA for further action,” said a statement released by the agency.

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