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Metro Derailment Prompts Federal Inspection

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By Seth Okin, a criminal defense attorney who practices in Maryland, and covers cases such as DUI, traffic, and other criminal offenses.

A July train derailment, among other concerning safety lapses in Metrorail, prompted an investigation by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). In spite of a repair program that began in June, Metrorail continues to have numerous safety violations that call into question the ability of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to reform the dangerous subway system and adhere to established safety standards.

The FTA reported that workers for Metrorail are not allotted adequate time to check the railway for discrepancies in train departure times and differences in the type of track.

Additionally, inspections that should be happening twice a week are only happening once a month; workers are not sufficiently trained to address critical safety issues; and the Metrorail inspection guidebook is outdated and addled with inconsistent and unclear standards for security.

Metrorail implemented a repair program two months ago that aimed to address the necessary equipment restorations while improving the overall safety culture. However, the FTA investigation reported that the program has failed to appropriate funds to urgent safety issues, and also that Metrorail inspection staff is not uniformly experienced enough to identify track risks that may require speed restrictions and other safety precautions. In addition, there are reports that train drivers have run through red lights, calling into question the safety culture reform of Metrorail.

The train derailment that occurred on July 29 at East Falls Church platform in Northern Virginia was likely a result of worn track equipment, including missing fasteners and dilapidated rail ties, as well as a failure by workers to properly inspect the track.

After the National Transportation Safety Board looked into the derailment, they found that deteriorated wooden rails caused large gaps in the tracks, which Metrorail confirmed was likely the cause of the derailment. Seventy-five people were evacuated from the platform at East Falls Church with three sustaining injuries that required them to visit a hospital. Investigators have suggested that the WMATA was aware of track inadequacies in the area as early as 2009.

In response to the derailment, Metrorail replaced 450 wooden rail ties and will now have a mandatory protocol that requires supervisors to accompany track inspectors to ensure that checks are up to par.

Additionally, WMATA will have to establish training and certifications procedures for track inspectors and devise a schedule that allows them enough time to make track inspections. They have two months to implement the program.

Until Metrorail safety is overhauled, the D.C. metro area will continue to be plagued by an insecure public transit system. This latest derailment was certainly not the first. Although in this derailment there were no major injuries to passengers, WMATA cannot assure anyone that these incidents will be remedied in the near future.