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Difference In Deadlines: Feds Say Metro Is Late Correcting Array Of Safety Problems

Among the safety problems Metro now finds itself behind on is improving the ability to detect the location of smoke in its tunnel network.
Kevin Harber: https://flic.kr/p/7iyPAM
Among the safety problems Metro now finds itself behind on is improving the ability to detect the location of smoke in its tunnel network.

A week after it appeared Metro met the first of more than 70 deadlines to remedy an array of safety problems across its rail and bus systems, federal officials changed the dates on a public tracking chart on Friday — and Metro suddenly was late on five items.

The deadlines Metro believed it met turned out not to be the dates federal oversight officials ultimately decided to hold Metro to. Instead, a new WMATA-focused safety office inside the Federal Transit Administration reverted to original deadlines agreed to last September. The move deals another blow to Metro’s public image, because now the transit authority is behind schedule on correcting problems directly related to passenger and worker safety.

Metro issued a statement that the necessary work is being completed regardless of which dates federal officials wish to publicize.

“This week, FTA changed their website to use ‘original’ estimated completion dates, which in some cases are earlier than what both agencies had previously agreed. Metro remains committed to completing each of the corrective actions, and has already submitted 308 items for completion,” said a statement from Metro spokesman Richard Jordan.

Before the changes, the tracking chart listed two deadlines for December 2015 and three for January, and Metro said it had submitted all the necessary corrective action plans on time.

The new tracking chart is significantly different, listing two items in each of October and November, three in December, and six in January. Metro is behind schedule on addressing the following five safety problems:

  • Walking track inspection resources have been cut in half. (FTA rejected Metro’s corrective action plan).
  • Maintenance and Operations Departments have not ensured the Roadway Worker Protection training program is being conducted as required.
  • WMATA must do more to prevent and manage conditions that cause smoke in tunnels; WMATA must improve its ability to detect the location of smoke in its tunnel network.
  • Proactive safety analysis of information provided by Operating and Maintenance departments is not routinely conducted.
  • Refresher and other training gaps exist within the Transportation and Maintenance Departments.

Federal officials decided to revert to the original dates to prevent Metro from extending deadlines on its own when a corrective action would take longer to submit than first planned. 

“FTA proactively reviewed the WMATA Corrective Action Tracking Table and determined that we needed to revise how we presented the information. The tracking table now only shows the original estimated dates WMATA submitted to FTA in September 2015 rather than WMATA’s updated internal dates,” said a statement released by the federal agency.

“This will both provide for greater transparency and make it easier to monitor WMATA progress. If WMATA doesn’t submit a corrective action closure request by its own original estimated date, the tracking table will reflect that the date was missed and is considered late.”

It was unclear what consequences, if any, Metro will face for missing these or any future deadlines. FTA’s new working relationship with Metro is the result of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s decision to shift safety oversight authority directly to the federal government in October 2015 (superseding the ineffective, local Tri-State Oversight Committee), and both sides repeatedly have expressed their willingness to work together.

While FTA does not have the authority to fine Metro, it may withhold funding — a questionable tactic since it could starve the transit system of the funds it needs to expedite rebuilding projects. 

Metro was required to create the corrective action plan after FTA released the results of a safety review last June 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. 

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