The current state of Metro may be far from perfect, but the agency logged two sizable wins this week: a safety milestone from the worst train crash in the system’s history and a record for the lowest incidence of major crime in recent years.
After almost a decade, Metro has finally executed the last of more than a dozen safety recommendations issued by federal investigators in the wake of the 2009 Red Line crash between Fort Totten and Takoma stations.
The National Transportation Safety Board notified Metro officials that the transit agency officially closed out its to-do list of federally mandated safety improvements, now that Metro has retired its fleet of 1000-series rail cars that were known to be vulnerable in a crash, according to a statement issued by Metro on Friday.
In the nine years since the collision between two trains, which killed nine people and injured dozens of others, Metro has instituted a slew of changes in response to the NTSB’s admonishments.
They conducted a top-to-bottom safety analysis of Metro’s automatic train control system and ripped out any track circuit modules showing signs of “parasitic oscillation” conditions that helped cause the crash. They instituted a policy that all lead rail cars in the system must be outfitted with crash-resistant event data recorders. And they developed a safety reporting program that would allow workers and supervisors to make note of potential safety hazards without risk of punitive actions.
The last recommendation that Metro needed to complete involved retiring Metro’s fleet of original rail cars, which were found to be structurally weak and contributed to the death toll in the 2009 crash. Metro finally retired those cars last summer, replacing them with a new fleet of Kawasaki stainless steel rail cars.
“The closure of this recommendation is the result of the Board’s investment in 7000-series rail cars and reflects nearly eight years of hard work and commitment from many staff members throughout the organization,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement. “We are committed to improving safety and continue to work to address all remaining NTSB safety recommendations.”
At the same time that NTSB notified Metro it had finished its Fort Totten-related safety improvements, the oversight agency confirmed that Metro had closed out two safety recommendations related to the 2015 deadly smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza station: developing extensive procedures for the use of tunnel fans in emergency situations and establishing a training program to ensure staff in Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center have knowledge of and practice with tunnel fan procedures.
However, Metro still has 26 outstanding NTSB recommendations for more recent incidents.
Of those, safety officials at the transit agency have submitted requests to the NTSB for 12 to be closed in response to actions and improvements made in recent months.
And that’s not the only heartening news for the afflicted transit agency: This week, Metro officials got word that the agency saw fewer incidents of crime in 2017 than in any year since 2005.
In 2017, there were 1,282 significant crimes, a 19 percent decrease from the year before, according to Metro’s latest statistics. In 2005, the year with the lowest Metro crime in recent history, there were 1,274 reported major crime incidents.
No homicides, arsons or burglaries occurred on Metro property in 2017 — whereas in 2016, there were five homicides, three arsons and two burglaries.
The agency also saw notable decreases for incidents of rape (down 67 percent), aggravated assault (down 27 percent), and snatching and pickpocketing incidents (down 27 percent).
Even so, officials have acknowledged in recent weeks that there are persistent crime issues on the system that need to be addressed — particularly passenger assaults on bus drivers and other transit staff, which increased in 2017.