WASHINGTON — A shakeup at the upper level of Metro’s management could be coming, without delay.
“I have absolutely no confidence in the safety department,” says WMATA Board Member Corbett Price. “Rank and file employees are disciplined when there are safety lapses, but yet the management gets a pass. We cannot allow this behavior to go on.”
These statements come as Metro continues to investigate what caused an empty train to derail Aug. 6. The Metro board’s safety and security committee grilled senior management for more than two hours during a special meeting Thursday, called in the aftermath of the derailment.
Metro Deputy General Manager Rob Troup was another target of the board’s frustrations. Troup provided more details into how a track defect that caused the derailment of an empty train went unfixed for a month.
Departing from the initial report published Friday, Troup says an employee erroneously pressed “delete.” The report said the worker simply misinterpreted the data.
“It was just an error on his part,” Troup says. “We do not believe he misinterpreted the data.”
The worker was operating a piece of equipment called a track geometry vehicle (TGV) on July 9. The TGV is designed to detect problems with the track invisible to traditional walking track inspections.
It is up to the operator of the TGV to determine whether a detected defect is real, or is a “false positive”. The lack of a system to backup the operator is what led board member Leif Dormsjo to say the procedures for track inspections have failed.
“This incident did not occur on August 6th of this year, it occurred on the day you brought in the TGV,” Dormsjo says.
Dormsjo went on to question how the investigation is being conducted.
“I take full accountability for the incident,” Troup says. “I’m accountable for everything that happens on the rail.”
Dormsjo was quick to fire back at Troup.
“But, why then, are you participating in the investigation that Mr. Dougherty [James Dougherty, Metro Chief Safety Officer] is performing,” says Dormsjo. “This gives me great concern that this isn’t an independent investigation.”
The train derailed after the failure of fasteners caused a phenomenon known as “wide gauge,” which allowed the axle to drop off the track. The TGV identified it as a “Level Black” defect which requires immediate attention.
There are more than a half million fasteners in the rail system. Troup says just last year, 27,000 of those fasteners were replaced.
After the defect was deleted, that section of track was also inspected eight times by track walkers. However, none of those inspections identified the problem. Troup says the process of those inspections needs to change.
This series of oversight failures is prompting a more aggressive response from the board.
“I think we need to look up and down the chain of command to decide who should stay and who should leave,” says board member Michael Goldman.
The full incident report is expected to be released at the beginning of October.