FTA finds serious safety lapses at WMATA, implements NTSB recs

Posted on June 17, 2015

Eli Patwood
Eli Patwood

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) found serious safety lapses in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) Metrorail Rail Operations Control Center, which schedules and conducts maintenance work, manages abnormal and emergency events, and ensures the safety of trains and personnel on the right-of-way. In key areas, WMATA is not effectively balancing safety-critical operations and maintenance activities with the demand for passenger service, according to the FTA.

“These are serious findings that strongly indicate that, despite gains made since the Fort Totten accident, WMATA’s safety program is inadequate,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. “WMATA management, its board of directors and its state safety oversight agency must work together to address FTA’s required actions, because the safety of passengers and personnel must be the top priority.”

FTA conducted the Safety Management Inspection (SMI) as part of its new safety authority established by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) in 2012. The SMI evaluated WMATA’s operations and maintenance programs, safety management capabilities, and organizational structures to assess compliance with its own procedures and rules; existing federal regulations; and FTA Safety Advisories to ensure safety for its passengers, employees and system infrastructure. The SMI report includes 54 safety findings: 44 for Metrorail and 10 for Metrobus.

FTA is issuing a Safety Directive to WMATA identifying required actions for each of the safety findings and is requesting the WMATA board to determine what changes to its Fiscal Year 2016 budget may be necessary to effectively implement the corrective actions.

“WMATA must commit to more employee safety training, increased track time for maintenance work, and a greater effort at identifying and reducing safety risks to deliver the level of safety its passengers and employees deserve,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan.

FTA Action on NTSB Recommendation

FTA also announced it is taking action to improve subway tunnel safety nationwide in response to an urgent recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board following the Jan. 12 WMATA Metrorail incident of smoke in a tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza.

FTA is directing State Safety Oversight Agencies (SSOAs) with jurisdiction over rail transit agencies to conduct audits to assess and inspect subway tunnel ventilation systems. After the SSOAs complete and return the audits, FTA will analyze the data to determine potential future rulemaking and safety guidance to the rail transit industry.

“FTA takes NTSB recommendations seriously and is taking quick action,” said McMillan. “This assessment will provide an opportunity to develop appropriate improvements for the benefits of rail transit riders nationwide.”

Other FTA Actions Related to WMATA include:

  • FTA performed a Safety Management System (SMS) Gap Analysis to evaluate WMATA’s approach to safety management practices and found it needs to further advance its SMS efforts.
  • FTA performed a regularly scheduled audit of the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC), the partnership between Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia responsible for managing the federally required State Safety Oversight (SSO) Program for WMATA Metrorail. The audit found the TOC partners must improve coordination on several issues, such as implementing new legal and financial requirements for a stronger SSO program required by MAP-21.
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