Ever wonder why Metro trains break down so much and why there are so many daily track problems, brake problems, maintenance problems and door problems?
Here's a rundown of dysfunction from Feb. 15, the last day the ever-more-transparent Metro has updated its "daily" disruption log:
- 5:42 a.m. A Blue Line train at Largo delayed due to maintenance problem.
- 5:44 a.m. A Yellow Line train at Alexandria Yard delayed due to track problem.
- 7:22 a.m. An Orange Line train at Ballston inbound to Virginia Square was taken out of service due to a door problem; customers were required to exit the train.
- 7:37 a.m. A Blue Line train at Largo Town Center was not dispatched due to brake problem.
- 9:27 a.m. A Red Line train at Woodley Park Zoo inbound to Dupont Circle was taken out of service due to a door problem; customers were required to exit the train.
- 11:32 a.m. A Blue Line train at Arlington Cemetery outbound to Pentagon was taken out of service due to a brake problem; customers were required to exit the train.
- 1:09 p.m. A Blue Line train at Braddock Road outbound to King Street delayed due to track problem.
- 4:07 p.m. A Red Line train at Fort Totten inbound to Brookland was taken out of service due to a maintenance problem; customers were required to exit the train.
- 5:31 p.m. An Orange Line train at Minnesota Avenue outbound to Deanwood was taken out of service due to a maintenance problem; customers were required to exit the train.
- 5:51 p.m. A Blue Line train at Eastern Market outbound to Potomac Avenue was taken out of service due to a brake problem; customers were required to exit the train.
- 10:50 p.m. A Red Line train at Fort Totten outbound to Takoma was taken out of service due to a door problem; customers were required to exit the train.
The reason for an ignominious record like that might just be that a lot of Metro workers aren't qualified to do their jobs and are gaming the system.
"Fifty percent [of the workers in car maintenance] don't know what they're doing," said a former Metro employee who worked in car maintenance. "This has led to trains going out that weren't repaired correctly."
How does this happen? Doesn't Metro administer some kind of tests to check the qualifications of its employees?
Yes, but according to four different sources, it's common knowledge that if you know the right people, you can buy the tests, memorize the multiple choice answers and pass with flying colors, all without learning a thing.
The going rate? $300, said one source.
Here's how it works.
Metro workers who aren't bus drivers or train operators--car maintenance workers, track workers, elevator/escalator workers, and the like--are divided up into five grades: helper, C, B, A and AA.
If one were to believe in the distinctions, AAs are more proficient and efficient than all As and so on.
To move up a grade, which brings more money and sometimes a better chance to pick the job you want, you must pass a test.
The scary part is that the answers to the test questions, which change only once a year, according to sources, are readily available for purchase.
This kind of cheating, one former employee alleges, leads to unqualified people working on trains and, in some cases, supervising others working on trains.
"I know one supervisor who cheated on his AA test," the source said. "They bragged that they'd paid $300 for the answers."
According to the source, that supervisor was once asked to do a very basic maintenance task and was unable to.
"They got teased a lot," the source said, adding that despite the incompetence, the supervisor wasn't fired or demoted.
Another source in car maintenance confirms this.
"You have people who take the job seriously and try to expose themselves to learning, but there are too many who take the shortcut and buy tests and then boast and brag about it," they said. "[Passing the tests] can up your hourly rate by seven bucks an hour to move from helper to AA, and if you don't know what you're doing, no one cares. It's a cheap way to get a promotion if you think about it.
"You want to know why there are so many door problems?" they continued. "This is it."
Another source related a story about how a car maintenance helper was able to miraculously take all the tests--in one day--to move from helper to AA.
The source added that there was no way this helper could have passed the tests, because they "should not have even been allowed to clean a bus."
"The tests are hard," the source, who had many years of experience, said. "I took the AA test seven times before passing."
Another former Metro employee related the story about how one helper who'd been working at Metro for 10 years, took all of the upgrade tests--C, B, A and AA--and passed them in one day.
Some of these tests also have a practical component, but that doesn't seem to count for much either.
One source said the practical portion "consisted of moving equipment from one place to another. That's right--if they could carry a few boxes they passed.”
Other Metro workers we pinged expressed little astonishment that tests were for sale and confirmed that it was widely rumored that one could buy a test if one were connected to the right people.
And as for the distinction among grades?
“Some of the best workers I worked with in my 27 years at Metro were Bs," said one former worker. "Some of the laziest, least qualified workers were AAs. In reality, it doesn't matter much what the classification is."
Bet that really helps planning the staffing of repair and maintenance jobs!
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