D.C. delegate calls for Oversight hearing after Red Line derailment

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is calling for a congressional hearing to address Metro’s backlog of maintenance issues in light of Friday morning’s train derailment in downtown D.C. that left several people with minor injuries and clogged traffic for hours. 

Norton asked the Oversight and Government Reform committee, on which she sits, to look closely at the safety risks posed to Metro riders by the continued delay in transit maintenance as well as the scope of how train repair work would affect the travel time of commuters.

ADVERTISEMENT
Friday’s accident comes in the face of a multi-billion dollar backlog in necessary improvements for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The several-year-old backlog received heavy scrutiny in the weeks after a June crash on the Red Line that left nine people dead, but the attention of lawmakers has waned in recent months.

“Metro has a shortfall of billions in capital funding needed to maintain the system and appears to lack the resources to pay for immediate upgrades,” said Norton.

“[Friday’s] derailment is only the latest indicator that years of delayed and insufficient maintenance and replacement of obsolete equipment are at the root of Metro’s accidents, delays and increasing operating difficulties apparently even beyond the problems facing similar systems.”

“With day-to-day federal operations and Metro joined at the hip, Congress and the public need to know much more about how Metro will fix a system now in late middle age and in what priority.”

Friday’s derailment at the overcrowded Farragut North station occurred during commuters’ first day back to work after a week of being snowbound and paralyzed by immobile public transit.

The accident was triggered when the front wheels of the six-car train derailed from its track and crossed into an opposite track being used for oncoming trains. The derailment set off the train’s safety system and brought the more than 300 passengers to a halt.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced Friday afternoon that it had launched an independent investigation into the latest Red Line derailment.

In September of 2008, the WMATA said that more than $11 billion was necessary to maintain and fund upgrades to its aging rail lines, train cars, and overall infrastructure.

Last year a coalition of senators from the region – Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) – successfully pushed for $34.3 million to purchase 52 new Metro cars.

Norton said that the 30-year-old train cars involved in the June crash were “only the tip of the iceberg of Metro’s obsolete equipment.”

In the wake of last year’s catastrophe, the WMATA began requiring all Metro trains to operate manually, rather than automatically. It also launched an inspection of its 3,000 track circuits, which provide trains with location data.