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Safety commission orders Metro to improve standards and accountability

The conclusion came in a five-page audit that reviewed how Metro installed or replaced parts

An older-model Metro train pulls into a station. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission said Friday that Metro workers are regularly flouting required safety checks and failing to get necessary certification or approvals when they work on the rail system.

The commission, an independent government agency that oversees Metrorail safety, said the transit agency is lacking in “safety certification,” which it has said is an “important process that includes identifying and mitigating issues before they result in damage, injuries or other problems.”

The conclusion came in a five-page audit that reviewed how Metro installed or replaced parts, made system repairs, and put trains and tracks back into service. The commission gave Metro 30 days to submit a plan to address how the agency can make sure safety checks are being conducted when required.

12 passengers evacuated after Metro train separates while in service on Red Line

Not having a system of checks can increase the risk of collisions, derailments or other calamities, the commission said.

Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said the transit agency acknowledges that workers need to better follow guidelines, but she also noted that the audit cited improvements the agency has made adhering to safety protocols for major projects.

Metro remains “committed to continuous improvement of our program and enhancing the safety of the system," she said.

Safety commission inspectors said Metro’s failure to follow a safety certification process “directly contributed” to two 6000 Series trains pulling apart last fall. Rail cars on both Red Line trains detached while passengers were onboard, but no one was seriously hurt.

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Safety investigators traced the problem to how the nearly 20-year-old series of rail cars were reconditioned. Investigators found loose bolts and connections in couplers — devices that help connect two rail cars — and said bolts were not properly torqued. Other trains that were inspected after the series was pulled from service had incorrect bolts and hardware, investigators have said.

The wrong size of bolt also was part of a problem that led to another 6000 Series train separation in 2018, Metro Chief Safety Officer Theresa M. Impastato has said. All 184 of Metro’s 6000 Series cars remain grounded indefinitely.

Other times when safety protocols were skipped include putting the Alexandria rail yard’s train operating system back into use without approval from engineers and safety officials, and construction and design work that did not include input from Metro’s safety department.

“The general lack of understanding across Metrorail as a whole of the critical importance of safety certification to identify hazards and mitigate risks, and the lack of authority demonstrated by the Safety Department to control this process, have contributed to Metrorail’s circumvention or other lack of compliance with safety certification requirements,” the safety commission’s audit said.

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