The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission gave Metro until Nov. 20 to make the revisions to its draft corrective action plans.
Metro is working to correct more than 20 workplace culture and safety failures highlighted in a withering commission audit. The report, released in September, described the ROCC as a “toxic workplace” that enabled bullying, threats, sexual and racial harassment, and that had serious staffing issues, all of which it said put workers and passengers at risk.
Metro, among other things, was ordered to come up with plans to clarify lines of communication, checklists for workers to use during emergencies, policies for protecting evidence for investigations and to develop procedures to ensure power to the electrified third rail was never turned on while people were on or near the tracks.
Commission Chief Operating Officer Sharmila Samarasinghe said Metro met its deadline last month to submit first drafts of its plans and was given two weeks to revise them using feedback from the safety panel. She didn’t specify what was wrong with individual plans but said they lacked a means for measuring whether Metro was following through.
“Review of these proposals has identified a number of improvements that are required before we can consider approving these [corrective action plans] for implementation,” Samarasinghe told the panel.
“Generally, the draft plans do not include the required evidence of implementation and in a number of cases need significant additional detail and follow up,” she said.
The commission provided feedback on the plans and sent them back to Metro on Friday, she said.
Many of the 21 issues that the commission audit identified, such as breakdowns in communication during emergencies, have been cited by federal safety officials repeatedly over the years, including after the deadly 2009 Red Line crash at Fort Totten that killed nine and the January 2015 smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza that led to the death of a passenger.
Commission Chief Executive David L. Mayer said Metro’s latest corrective action plans will require reworking before the commission is satisfied the transit agency is finally on track to addressing the long-standing problems.
“Our review of these proposals has identified a number of improvements that are required before we can approve these [corrective action plans] for implementation,” Mayer said.
Initial reviewing and revising of corrective action plans is a regular part of the process. Metro is given broad leeway on how to correct identified problems, but must seek the safety commission’s approval on how it decides to remedy them.
Beyond benchmarks for measuring progress, safety commission members asked Samarasinghe who would hold Metro accountable for making the necessary changes once its corrective action plans are approved.
Samarasinghe said Metro supervisors and managers will be required to make sure front-line personnel are following the plans. They also will be required to collect feedback from their employees on safety issues while providing them with ongoing coaching and training.
A Rail Operations Quality Control Team embedded within the Rail Transportation division at Metro will also be doing regular checks, she said.
“These individuals will also conduct various aspects of inspections and reviews of whether or not various actions are complied with and requirements are met,” Samarasinghe said.
Inspectors from Metro’s quality assurance, internal compliance and oversight department, which is in charge of internal audits, will be doing the same.
“So there are several layers and several concurrent efforts that are used to assure that whatever corrections that are put in place are monitored and adjusted,” she said.
The safety commission, meanwhile, does its own checks, she said, and those include audits, ongoing inspections and investigations.
On Tuesday, the commission was also told about a safety incident from the summer that led its investigators to order Metro to come up with a corrective action plan to ensure the safety of construction workers.
A flagman at the East Falls Church Metro station signaled for a Wiehle-bound Silver Line train to stop on Aug. 19, but it blew past him, according to commission program specialist Bruce Walker. The flagman’s job was to warn train operators to watch for work crews ahead who were replacing platforms and working on the line.
At the time, the East Falls Church station was closed so trains were bypassing it. Walker said the Silver Line train approached the station at more than 30 mph — the limit is 25 mph — and it didn’t stop, despite the flagman’s signaling.
A worker on the station platform immediately contacted the ROCC, and controllers ordered the train to halt. When it stopped, Walker said, it was about a half-mile past the East Falls Church station platform.
The ROCC then told the operator to continue to the Greensboro station, where a supervisor replaced the operator due to the violation.
During an investigation, the safety commission learned that the ROCC had only made one blanket announcement warning train operators about construction workers in the vicinity.
“That announcement was made 37 minutes before this event, raising questions about the effectiveness of relying on these blanket announcements,” Walker said.
After the violation, Metro issued a notice to employees, stressing the importance of following procedures. The train operator was put through a refresher course on safety protocols, as well, Walker said.
Metro, meanwhile, was ordered to come up with more effective ways of making sure operators stay informed about construction work going on in and around the tracks.
“I’m pleased that our staff worked quickly to evaluate this safety concern and take action,” Mayer said.