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Metro ordered to clean up, regularly inspect control rooms

The transit agency’s regulator said it found one control room in a condition of disrepair and neglect

Commuters leave the Friendship Heights Metro stop. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
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The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission on Thursday said Metro has shirked pledges to clean up and inspect control rooms vital to Metrorail’s operations, prompting the regulatory agency to order that transit officials comply with a schedule of required cleaning, maintenance and inspections.

The commission, an independent agency that oversees Metrorail safety, said the order comes after Metro had pledged in March to conduct special and regular inspections of control rooms after inspectors found the Friendship Heights station’s control room in disrepair and neglect. Inspectors followed up in July and August, the commission said, and found Metro had failed to complete — and in some cases start — many of the required tasks.

The control rooms, located within each Metro station, contain electrical components that help run the Automatic Train Protection system, which keeps trains from colliding; the Automatic Train Supervision system, which helps to route trains and keep them on schedule; and the Automatic Train Operation system, which can control train movements.

“Metrorail has an ineffective and insufficient inspection, maintenance and cleaning program for Automatic Train Control equipment, particularly including a lack of required tools, procedures, and supervisory oversight for care of vital equipment housed in train control rooms and is not maintaining the structural integrity of these ancillary rooms,” the commission said in a statement.

The order requires the transit agency to document and begin a schedule of quarterly control room inspections by Oct. 31, ensuring train system equipment and wiring is securely mounted, clean and properly labeled. The order requires Metro to report any problems. Metro is also required to conduct and document special safety inspections of each control room according to a schedule the transit agency gave the safety commission Tuesday.

Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said the transit agency is going beyond the order’s requirements to ensure compliance and regular maintenance.

“Our Safety Department also is coordinating and overseeing additional inspections across the system with Operations [personnel] which includes assigning ownership of the rooms and developing a comprehensive inspection regime to assure state of good repair,” Ly said in a statement. “We have expanded our capital program to include inspections and upgrades of these assets as part of our projects to upgrade [Automatic Train Control] systems.”

Metro’s cleaning and maintenance practices for the control rooms came under scrutiny in late March, when commission inspectors found equipment at Friendship Heights covered in dust and debris, according to the safety commission. A hole in the ceiling exposing rusting rebar and other materials was the source of debris around equipment, inspectors said. Water leaks were being caught by buckets, and plastic that had been placed over equipment some time ago had deteriorated, the commission said.

According to the commission, the failure of vital systems within a control room was a focus of the investigation into the 2009 collision of two Red Line trains that killed nine people near Fort Totten.

The commission cited the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigative report from the crash in its order, which stated that the fatal crash was caused by the “accumulation of latent conditions,” or inaction within Metro’s “maintenance, managerial and organizational spheres.”