Feds order DC Metro to take new safety actions

Feds order DC Metro to take new safety actions
© Moriah Ratner

Federal authorities are ordering Washington’s Metrorail system to address critical problems with its deteriorating track power system.

A safety directive from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requires Metro to take 47 actions, including train its employees on the track power system and institute a program to test cables.

The directive is based on a report that found the agency still lacks sufficient personnel resources to perform required maintenance on its traction power electrification (TPE) system.

The TPE system has been the source of “arcing” incidents on the subway, which can lead to smoke and fire. There have been 70 electrical arcing events that required an emergency response since the FTA assumed temporary oversight of Metro last fall.

“The safe operation of Metrorail service is directly dependent on [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] WMATA implementing corrective actions to reduce and eliminate electrical arcing events that have too often resulted in smoke and fire, which can endanger passenger safety,” Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxHillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE said in a statement Friday.

Investigators found that the TPE system has been deteriorated “with age, deferred maintenance, and increased exposure to water and moisture with contaminating materials.” Some components of the system are no longer performing as they are supposed to, according to the report.

The report also raised concern that Metro may be underestimating the issues that will arise from its plans to eventually use only eight-car trains on the system. 

The FTA is now requiring Metro to train employees on the track power system, create a criteria to grade system defects, develop a formal policy for cleaning insulators, implement a third rail grout pad replacement program and institute a cable testing program.

Although the traction power system continues to be a concern, the report notes that Metro has already taken a number of steps to address problems and has worked to “create a safer environment for both workers and passengers.”

“WMATA has already started to address these issues, and the FTA report and special directive will help WMATA prioritize what it must do to improve its traction power system to keep the trains running safely,” Foxx said.