Friday, September 30, 2011

Radio Problems: More than Meets the Quote?

Metro's relatively new, $70 million radio system is a top gripe for Metro employees. Every one I've talked to derides it. The cops hate it, and so does Jackie Jeter, the union head.

So initially, yesterday's "system wide radio communication problem" wasn't really surprising.

But did anyone find the Washington Post quote from Metro chief flack Dan Stessel odd?
“It was a console in the rail control center where a foot pedal that is used to key the mike became stuck in the open position,” he said. “It wasn’t a problem with the network or infrastructure. It was a very simple issue.”
I found it interesting that he added the part about the network and infrastructure. He didn't really need to, and I sloughed it off until I started to hear from Metro employees.

"We have always had problems where certain areas are not covered, but this is system wide and today, across multiple channels. That is why the pedal thing doesn't add up," said one Metro source.

Three sources said the problem yesterday was over multiple channels. Apparently, one channel starting making a funny sound and was unusable, and they switched to another, which worked for a while, but then it, too, failed and started making the same sound.

One worker called me up so I could hear the sound coming from the radio. It was like something from the 1960s Star Trek.

That source added that usually, if there's a stuck or open microphone, you can still hear people talking or hear background noise. I heard none of that.

Metro's story may be true, but there is definitely something else going on with those radios.

Two sources also said there was a 15-minute outage the day before. Another said it was the third outage over the past few days and that the radios gave a readout saying "SOFT fail." They weren't sure what that meant.

The radios are so rife with problems, sources confirm, that certain workers still carry the old radios, the new ones, personal cell phones and pagers.

The subpar radios also led Metro to change the zero-tolerance policy regarding cell phones so that certain positions can use their personal cell phones while on the job to communicate when the radios fail.

"We use our personal phones all the time because the radios are so bad," said one source. "It's all done with a wink."

One source added that since all communication goes through central (OCC), when the radio system breaks down, "who knows what could happen," so everyone, for example, working on the tracks, has to leave the area where they're working and get out of the way since no one really knows what's going on in the system.

This leads to losing a lot of time and money, they added.
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