Communication In Derailment Is Criticized

Metro Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman says the agency's communications were ineffective.
Metro Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman says the agency's communications were ineffective. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008

Metro took too long to notify emergency officials when an Orange Line train derailed this week and failed to heed advice from Arlington transportation officials about maneuvering shuttle buses around rush-hour traffic, board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said yesterday.

Metro's difficulty in communicating quickly and clearly with riders during major incidents is one of riders' most common and long-standing complaints. But Metro's response during the derailment and other Orange Line disruptions this week highlights a broader and more troubling issue, Zimmerman said: the transit agency's problems communicating and coordinating effectively with other agencies during emergencies.

"There seem to be communication issues not only with our customers, but also between jurisdictions and within Metro itself," he said.

During a review of the incidents yesterday, Metro Deputy General Manager Gerald Francis acknowledged that agency managers need to get information to riders and emergency personnel more quickly. He also acknowledged that the Metro operations center should be requesting shuttle bus service sooner than it has during recent disruptions. And, he said, Metro officials will meet with local fire and police departments to improve coordination and notification.

Francis also apologized to customers for the service disruptions that resulted in major rush-hour backups this week along the Orange Line, Metro's second-busiest. To improve communication, he said, station managers are receiving better training, and station kiosks now have portable radios to allow managers to stay in touch with the operations center. In addition, starting July 1, Metro will install station-specific maps that show all bus service for individual stations.

But board members were in no mood for Metro officials' promises to do better next time.

Metro cannot control the weather, and it has little control over heat-related problems such as a rail kink, a bend in the track that halted service during Wednesday's afternoon hour, said Zimmerman, an Arlington County Board member. "But we can control how we respond to those incidents, and that's what riders will hold us responsible for."

Monday's derailment outside the Court House Station occurred at 2:45 p.m. Metro officials said they notified Arlington fire officials at 3:02 p.m., after the train operator had stopped the train, gotten out of the cab and inspected the track and train.

But Arlington personnel in charge of emergency response for major incidents were not notified by Metro until 3:15 p.m., Zimmerman said. If there had been multiple injuries in the derailment -- none were reported -- that delay could have been critical. "If you lose 15 minutes, that might really matter in the future," he said.

Zimmerman said Arlington personnel were unable to communicate by phone with the station manager at Rosslyn, so "someone had to run down the street to find him."

As Metro set up shuttle buses to ferry stranded passengers to their destinations, Arlington transportation staff gave Metro routes that the buses could take, "but they weren't followed," Zimmerman said.

One rider who posted an e-mail on The Washington Post's Web site said his shuttle bus from Rosslyn to Ballston took local roads with stoplights instead of Interstate 66.

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