But the report, resulting from FTA’s months-long Track Integrity Investigation of Metro, also includes a sizable number of anecdotes that are simply shocking to read. The most notable: Metro officials knew of problems just outside the East Falls Church station — where a Silver Line train derailed on July 29 due to degraded tracks — but they did not shut down the section of track because they needed it for single-tracking as part of SafeTrack surges.
Metro board member Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland, pointed to one part of the report that discusses the lack of clear policy on what speed restrictions were required for what type of track conditions, and supervisors who were able to overrule written requirements and use their own discretion.
“That shouldn’t be the way we run a railroad,” Goldman said. “We either have policies we adhere to — or we change the policies. We can’t give this kind of breadth of discretion to mid-level managers to ignore safety standards.”
In case you aren’t inclined to wade through a 36-page report, we’ve got the highlights below. (And for what it’s worth, all emphases were added.)
1. Months ago, the Federal Transit Administration suggested that Metro fix the problem that later caused the East Falls Church derailment — but Metro officials ignored FTA’s advice because they wanted to be able to continue single-tracking … a decision that calls into question Metro’s commitment to “safety over service.”
“… during the track integrity investigation, FWSO [federal inspectors] highlighted concerns regarding the overall track conditions on the section of Orange/Silver Line track from Vienna to Ballston, as crossties and other track components reach the end of their useful life. The FWSO encouraged WMATA to include this track in its SafeTrack program, and specifically to prioritize work between East Falls Church to Ballston, as one of the first three SafeTrack surges. The particular interlocking involved in the derailment was not part of this initial surge because it was used to support single tracking operations.”
2. FTA found 14 serious track issues during three weeks of inspections.
“In all, over three weeks between March 21 and April 15, 2016, FWSO’s inspection teams identified almost 400 defects in track conditions, including 7 ‘black’ conditions in three locations that required WMATA to take track out of service and 7 additional ‘red’ conditions that required WMATA to impose speed restrictions.”
3. Though Metro’s rules say that tracks with very serious issues must be taken out of service, Metro continued to operate trains over those tracks, but at reduced speeds.
“According to WMATA maintenance standards anything over 120 inches requires that a ‘black’ (out of service) condition be placed on the track. However, WMATA track supervisors at the location with FWSO’s team determined that 15 mph speed restrictions would be sufficient for two of these three conditions.”
4. There was a 21-foot stretch of track without anything holding the steel rail in place.
“WMATA did remove from service the track with the third instance of missing fasteners. This short section of track in the crossover between two switches measured 456 inches (over 21 feet) between effective fasteners. This is almost four times the minimum allowed by WMATA’s maintenance standards.”
5. FTA found some sizable leaks throughout the system.
“Most significantly, FWSO found multiple water leaks between the Potomac Avenue and Stadium-Armory stations, including a gushing leak at the safety catwalk and a smaller leak just above a newly installed boot and a cable.”
6. Some employees didn’t know how to accurately measure the width of the rail.
“As an example, an FWSO inspection team encountered an issue with lack of knowledge regarding the application of third rail gauge threshold measurements. Specifically, at one location where the rail exhibited equipment striking the third rail, employees indicated that the third rail gauge was measured from the field side of the rail. The TRST 1000 [a Metro manual] indicates measurement from the gauge side of the near rail.”
7. Basically, FTA officials said in the report that many of Metro’s inspectors don’t know what they’re doing.
“… in subsequent follow-up inspections, FWSO inspectors found deficient track conditions requiring speed restrictions that were missed by track inspectors, including instances of missing direct fixation or DF fasteners (up to 456 inches between effective DF fasteners) that should have been already noted and repaired. In other instances, questions regarding the cause or source of specific defects, from wheel burns, to spalling and corrosion, were incorrectly identified and the typical progression patterns and timelines for common defects were also not well understood. Many of the track inspectors encountered appeared to be inadequately trained with little or no hands-on-training.”