Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Safety Wild West?

For all the inconvenience of weekend disruptions to "rebuild the system," you'd think there would have been at least some noticeable improvement in Metro's performance and safety.

But it seems to be getting worse. There are delays and breakdowns of one kind or another nearly every day now.

By my unscientific count, there were 24 "disabled train" alerts over the past 30 days and 42 "train malfunction" alerts.

There were also two circuit malfunctions, nine switch problems, and three signal problems.

These numbers come from a search of Metro's Twitter feed over 30 days. There are no doubt many more incidents that went unreported.

Of course, we'll never know the real numbers as Metro stopped posting their disruption reports when the new communications team came aboard. The ever more opaque public transit system is forced by no regulatory body to disclose all of its mishaps to those who pay to ride it.

Ahh, the new transparency.

Even worse, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.), and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.) praised Metro because there were no fatalities! Talk about a low bar.

Remember Metro's recent spate of brakes falling off?

One Metro source said "we may not have killed anybody, but it's not for lack of trying."

Then there's a report of a 10-car train that somehow ran an entire Red Line run without anyone from Metro noticing. How does that happen?

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel told the Examiner those responsible would receive “strong disciplinary action.” According to WJLA, they were given unpaid suspsensions, which they'll probably fight. They'll definitely be back at work at Metro, just hopefully not with our lives in their hands.

But these 10-car clowns weren't the Metro high achievers. One Metro source tells me Metro recently ran a 12-car train on the mainline that was finally noticed by an operator. That didn't end up on Metro's Twitter feed.

What's next 14? 16? Keep reaching for the skies, Metro!

The same day as the 10-car train incident, one source told me there was another case of Metro incompetence. This time, a 6-car train was coupled with another 2-car set to which it was not meant to be coupled. The two cars were not meant to be moved and had their brakes fully locked. They were dragged by the 6-car train onto the mainline. Of course, that's not a good thing.

From the source:
The Alexandria shop sent a train out for a track test. They were checking the train to see if it would fail after a major problem had occurred. Standard practice. The issue is they sent a junior mechanic to ride the train in case it broke down or failed while on the mainline. The train went down in an interlocking on the Blue Line. The train was down for around 90 minutes! The mechanic was new and useless.

The train was stuck, and OCC [Metro's control center] did not have good radio reception, the operator was not very experienced, and the junior mechanic and his lack of train knowledge and communications skills added to the mayhem.

The OCC controller, Ms. Allen, was taken off the radio because she lost her cool and blew up.

It took a road mechanic who was coming on duty to get the train moved. He had the problem diagnosed in a matter of a couple minutes, and the train was taken into the yard.

Monday morning we came in and checked the incident log for the previous Friday to see the details of the incident. There is no record of the downed train in the system. It was removed. My guess was it was erased to save the OCC controller.
I asked another source about this incident and the super sized trains, and they said "all in a day's work at Metro. It's only going to get worse as the last few competent people retire."

Adding to this is a pretty disconcerting "safety report" Metro is set to present the Board. According to the report, customer injuries are up 35 percent, while passenger trips are down 6 percent. (It should be noted that employee injuries decreased by 24 percent.)

Despite PR spin and a lot of talk, all of this leads me to believe that the wild west "safety culture" of Metro has not been tamed at all.

Other items:
More Dulles rail blues (Examiner)
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