Wide-ranging safety problems have been found in the Metro subway system's control room, tunnel-ventilating system, operating procedures, emergency evacuation techniques and training programs, according to two long-awaited consultants' reports released yesterday.
The studies, by Boeing Aerospace Company and Raymond Kaiser Engineers, stemmed from Metro's January 1982 derailment in which three persons died. The derailment has already led to several other major investigations and more than 200 recommendations for improving the rail system's safety.
Metro officials said they were told by their consultants that none of the deficiencies was so critical as to warrant immediate curtailment of rail service or other drastic actions. Nonetheless, they praised the two reports--each more than 150 pages long--as "a blueprint for safety," and said steps were under way to carry out or review many of the consultants' recommendations.
Metro withheld issuing the two consultants' reports for several months, saying time was needed to analyze them. Metro officials have repeatedly asserted that the rail system is among the safest in the nation, despite the 1982 derailment.
A Metro report earlier this week ranked the rail system as the nation's safest on the basis of 1981 data. "Fewer on-board and station accidents occur with our passengers and employes than any other major rail system in the country," it said.
The $225,300 Boeing study expressed concern about safety risks stemming from possible confusion about rules for manual, rather than automatic, train operations. If an operator misunderstood manual instructions, the report said, "A 15 mph collision could result."
The Boeing study criticized the control room as understaffed, too small, too noisy and poorly equipped. "Crew size appears inadequate for emergency situations," the report said, recommending that the control-room staff be enlarged from five--the number of workers at the time of the study--to nine. In an emergency, it warned, one radio operator "is likely to be overloaded."
In outlining deficiencies in the control room's equipment, the report pointed to apparent difficulties in regulating power in the 750-volt third rail.
"A total of 20 key actions are required to de-energize both tracks," it said. "The possibilities for error in a 20-key sequence are significant. One error on any one of the 20 key strokes will leave a rail station energized." Such an error might endanger persons in a subway tunnel--an issue that arose after the 1982 derailment.
Boeing criticized Metro's emergency rules, saying that "emergency procedure currently resides in the heads of the controllers or in the manuals. The former has a tendency for human error and the latter requires time to search and read and can have an adverse effect . . . "
The report termed Metro's rail training programs "inadequate" and called for establishment of a special training branch to provide instruction and refresher courses. The report also urged improvements in emergency exit signs in tunnels and stations.
The $289,229 Kaiser study found severe shortcomings in the capacity of Metro's ventilation system to remove smoke, toxic gases and heat from a fire in a subway tunnel and help clear an evacuation route. "The system cannot control the smoke and hot air from relatively small to relatively severe train fires," it said.
The study found that fans in the tunnels have "limited capability" and are often broken. An average of about 20 percent of the ventilating devices are out of operation at any given time, and at times as much as 80 percent of the equipment has not functioned, the report said. It urged an improved maintenance effort to ensure that 99 percent of the ventilation system works.
"Under these conditions, fans may not be available and therefore could be inoperative when required in an emergency," the study said.
The Kaiser report concluded that although Metro's ventilation system "is effective in controlling under-car-type fires of a limited nature," the fans "cannot control the flow for medium . . . or severe . . . fires."
Especially hazardous, the study said, would be a fire in a narrow tunnel with a single-rail track. "The single-track tunnel cannot be adequately ventilated," it said.
Metro officials said yesterday that they have already increased the control room's staff to eight employes and improved its equipment, and are considering plans for a $12 million to $20 million overhaul, including a new computer. Tighter procedures have been imposed to decrease risks when trains are run manually, officials said.
The transit authority said it is moving to establish a training branch, revise operating procedures and improve emergency signs in tunnels. It has already adopted plans to install special handles near subway doors to let passengers escape in an emergency--another recommendation by the consultants.
Metro officials said they plan to step up maintenance of ventilation equipment and are studying whether to install bigger fans in tunnels or, instead, to make subway cars more fire resistant.