Metro’s general manager and chief safety officer are both expected to testify before the region’s Congressional delegation Wednesday afternoon that the transit system has installed better safety equipment and done more training to help prevent accidents since the June 2009 Red Line crash.
Richard Sarles, Metro’s general manager and chief executive officer, is scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill with Metro Chief Safety Officer James Dougherty.
It is the second time the National Capital Region’s congressional delegation, headed by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), has called on Metro’s senior leadership to give it a progress report on its moves to improve safety. The roundtable comes a week before the second anniversary of the June 22 accident at Fort Totten. Nine people were killed and dozens injured in the deadliest accident in Metro’s history.
Outside groups, including the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Transit Administration and the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which oversees safety at Metro, have commended the transit system on making improvements to its safety procedures, equipment and culture during the past two years.
But watchdog officials caution that Metro still has a long way to go, given its challenges, including a $66 million budget deficit for next fiscal year, repairing and maintaining a rundown and aging system, plus a push to change workplace attitudes that have neglected safety.
An FTA audit in spring 2010 called Metro’s safety department “completely marginalized.” FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff had said Metro was responsible for “grotesque” violations of safety for track workers, noting that eight Metro employees had been killed on the job since 2005.
In response, Sarles has said he’s implemented a new manual on track-worker protection and created a cross-departmental group to focus on worker safety.
In his written testimony for Wednesday’s roundtable, Sarles enumerated some of Metro’s safety improvements since spring 2010, when he was named interim general manager. Sarles was hired for the permanent job in January.
Sarles said Metro has done work that includes:
• Using $1 billion of Metro’s $5 billion capital program to implement more than 20 recommendations from the NTSB.
• Replacing 148 of 178 switches on the rail system. Metro has sped up its schedule for finishing the remaining 30 by mid-2012.
• Contracting for new rail cars to replace the 1000 series, the oldest in the fleet, at a cost of $689 million. The new cars are expected to arrive by the end of 2013.
• Investing $148 million to rehabilitate and replace nearly 153 of the system’s 588 escalators.