Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Wrong Kind of Openness


On Aug. 25, shortly before 10:30 a.m. on the Green Line toward Branch Ave., at the Mt Vernon stop, a Metro train operator opened the doors on the wrong side of the train.

We know this because of a tweet, which we later retweeted.

Within a day, the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC), the body charged with safety oversight, asked if we could put them in touch with the twitter. We did. The TOC went to Metro with the information and discovered Metro had also seen the tweet on the Unsuck Twitter. Metro confirmed the incident with the TOC.

Opening the doors on the wrong side of a train is a major safety violation, but in this case, there are many questions about the incident that Metro won't answer.

Instead, they will cite policy:
Absent mechanical failure, the penalties are as follows:

Improper Opening
1st occurrence: 12 workday suspension + retraining
2nd occurrence: 18 month disqualification as Train Operator (can work in other L689 jobs for which qualified)
3rd occurrence: permanent disqualification as Train Operator

There is no time limit on the penalties for 2nd & 3rd occurrence. The employee's entire WMATA history is considered.

Failure to Report
1st occurrence: 20 workday suspension
2nd occurrence: discharge

The penalties for improper opening & failure to report can be added together, so if there is an improper and unreported door opening, the employee will receive a 32 workday suspension + retraining.
We asked Metro if the operator reported the incident. They wouldn't say.

"We are not going to comment on the specifics as it is a personnel issue," was the response.

In a later conversation with Metro, we were again rebuffed, even after pointing out that Metro has had no problems announcing the suspensions and 'firings' of other violators in the past.

Still they didn't want to reveal more.

We made the argument that the public has a right to know what goes on, especially when there's a danger of people being dumped onto the third rail. Furthermore, the public has a right to know if the operator simply screwed up or--and this is a far more scary notion--he screwed up and felt like he could simply not report it and walk.

Metro said there's no way the operator could have gotten away with such a violation because there is an automated system that would alert Metro central control if there was an improper door operation.

However, it's unclear at this point, whether such a system actually exists.

On Aug. 30, the TOC requested more information about the incident, including asking if there is an automated door violation reporting system and, if there is, any reports generated by it on Aug. 25. As of press time, the TOC had not gotten a response from Metro.

You'd think the existence of such a system would be something, you know, Metro would sort of know off the tops of their heads, especially considering the number of door incidents. In fact, door issues were recently a focus of safety when Metro pulled all of the 4000-series cars because the doors were opening while the train was moving.

This is a blown opportunity for Metro to just settle with riders about what happened and what they did as a result, but instead it looks like they're hiding something, causing further distrust.

Wasn't it the GM himself who said covering up problems "is the worst thing you can do?"

Original photo: charliepinto

Other items:
Zimmerman's Metro stewardship scrutinized (Gazette)
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