NTSB briefs Congress on limited investigation of WMATA derailment

Posted on August 8, 2016

WMATA/Larry Levine
WMATA/Larry Levine

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) presented to Congressional staff for members of Congress from the region, as well as committee staff with oversight for transportation safety, the agency’s findings from a limited investigation of the July 29, 2016, derailment of a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) train.

The NTSB dispatched two investigators to the scene of the Orange Line train 602 derailment near East Falls Church, Va., to assess the accident and to determine if a broader investigation was necessary.

The train derailed at an interlocking about 50 feet from the East Falls Church station platform. Approximately 75 passengers were evacuated to the wayside and onto the station platform. The trailing truck of the fourth railcar and the leading truck from the fifth railcar derailed. There were three reported injuries; one resulted in the passenger being transported to and subsequently released by, Arlington hospital. The other two passengers were evaluated and refused further medical attention. Service was suspended on the track after the derailment and resumed on Monday.

In this limited investigation the NTSB did not state probable cause, but did convey findings of fact, including:

  • NTSB investigators noted a 59-inch gage (the distance between the rails of the track) in the location of the derailment. WMATA standards require that track gage greater than 57-1/4 inches be removed from service.
  • Investigators noted a severe defective tie condition in the accident area. WMATA standards call for 12 non-defective crossties in this area. Further WMATA standards require no more than 10 feet between non-defective ties. In the subject location investigators found more than 30 feet of track with no effective crossties.

In response to the findings of the NTSB investigators and WMATA’s own investigation, the transit agency told the NTSB it is taking the following actions:

  • Conduct a Stand Down Wednesday, to clarify the expectations for remedial actions following track inspections.
  • WMATA supervisors will accompany track inspectors during crossover inspections in advance of safe tracks.
  • Crossovers will now be included in main line track automated inspections.
  • Crossovers will now be inspected twice weekly as required by WMATA standards.

The NTSB’s briefing to Congressional staff for Members of Congress from the region, as well as committee staff with oversight for transportation safety, is the agency’s last update on its investigation of the derailment.

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