Metro's mishaps raise scrutiny on safety agencies

Metro's mishaps raise scrutiny on safety agencies
© Greg Nash

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's string of high-profile safety mishaps involving its Metrorail system is putting a slew of federal and local agencies on the hot seat.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) put four other entities in the spotlight when it issued 31 safety recommendations in a sweeping report earlier this week.


Those bodies include the Federal Transit Administration, which assumed temporary oversight of the Metrorail system in the fall; the District of Columbia mayor’s office; the District’s Office of Unified Communications; and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

The safety recommendations accompanied an NTSB report detailing the probable cause of a deadly January 2015 Metro accident. In the incident, smoke from a tunnel fire near L’Enfant Plaza entered a stalled Yellow Line train car, killing one passenger and sickening dozens more.

Metro rolled out a massive new rehabilitation plan on Friday and received the brunt of the safety instructions.

Here are the federal safety board's recommendations aimed at other entities:


The Federal Transit Administration

The agency was directed to issue regulatory standards for inspecting, maintaining and repairing rail tunnel infrastructure. The NTSB also encouraged the agency to use standards that are backed by industry consensus in doing so.

The agency was also told to issue regulatory safety standards for emergency exits located in tunnels.


The District of Columbia mayor

The safety board told D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to convene an independent panel of experts to assess how well the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is prepared to handle mass-casualty events in the underground system and identify ways to improve preparedness.

The mayor was told to provide the findings to other local jurisdictions that share Metro’s transit system.


The District’s Office of Unified Communications

The safety board said the Office of Unified Communications should audit its call center that receives emergency calls, a so-called public service answering point, to make sure it is compliant with National Emergency Number Association standards.

The office was told to assess the average length of time it takes to process an emergency call, develop call-processing standards and train call-takers on those standards.


The District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department

The board directed the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to train all officers who serve as “incident commanders” in accordance with the skills and practices of the National Incident Management System.

The department should also provide regular refresher training, safety regulators said.