No one was injured in the incident, but two Metro employees — a train operator and a rail operations controller — have been removed from duty pending the investigation. The Federal Transit Administration, which has been put in charge of safety oversight for Metro’s rail operations, is looking into the safety violation.
“Red signal overruns are a very serious safety concern and thankfully no one was injured or killed as a result of the incident,” an FTA spokesman said in a statement. “As the investigation is ongoing, FTA is unable to comment further.”
Roger Bowles, a business analyst who has been monitoring the system since 1989, said an investigation revealed multiple communications lapses. Bowles’ company Discovery Performance Solutions — an independent analyst of Metro — released a statement Monday that attributed the issue to a breakdown in communication between the train operator and a rail controller.
Bowles said the train operator indicated to a rail operations controller that he would continue onto a section of track assigned to the opposing train, and a rail control operator did not catch the mistake. When the moving train did not stop on the Federal Triangle tracks as assigned, it passed through a switch meant for the opposing train, leaving it facing the train at Smithsonian.
Bowles said his company obtained audio tapes from the rail operations controllers, which were used to recreate the incident.
“It’s just human error,” Bowles said. “What we’ve heard is he misunderstood how far he was supposed to go. And he read [the instructions] back incorrectly. And the controller did not catch it. Had the controller caught that, the whole thing would have been prevented.”