Metro safety concerns after series of incidents - FOX 10 News |

Metro safety concerns after series of incidents

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Metro is facing mounting concerns about safety after several incidents on the Metrorail system in recent weeks.

Two Metro trains went down the wrong track, another hit the stairs and the emergency intercom on some trains don't work.

It has been one problem after another. Everything from the aging system and human error are to blame. Most of the issues are recent, but the intercom problem first surfaced in 2009, but Metro failed to fix it.

"This kind of reminds me of the old WMATA, issue the press release but don't deliver the results," said board member Mortimer Downey.

Although he does not believe that is the case here, he raised concerns the agency may be unaware of other pre-existing problems.

Metro finally got around to it just months ago after complaints and a request from the tri-state oversight committee which oversees the rail line.

"I don't believe this is the old 2009. I do believe this problem will be corrected and was being corrected," said James Benton, chair of the tri-state oversight committee.

Testing showed when a 6000 series rail car is in the lead, it isn't getting the intercom signal from 1000 series and 4000 series cars behind it. Metro realigned the rail cars until the problems are fixed. That has been done with the 1000 series cars, but the 4000 series won't be completed for about two months.

While investigating the issue, Metro also uncovered something more troubling. In a small number of 2000/3000 and 5000 series cars, installation of new digital radios caused interference, so some operators annoyed by the noise intentionally disabled the intercoms.

"Two things: we stopped the modifications and we told the operators do not do that," said Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles.

Anyone found disabling an intercom he said would be disciplined.

In recent weeks, Metro has experienced other difficulties. Two Orange Line trains were misidentified by the control center as Blue Line trains and routed to the wrong tracks, but still headed in the right direction. Metro says there was never any danger. Its automatic train protection system, which was approved by NTSB after the deadly 2009 Red Line train crash, would have prevented trains from coming dangerously close to one another.

In June, a Red Line train at the Rhode Island Metro station hit the service stairs at the end of the platform. An investigation found the stairs dislodged because the bolts that hold it corroded. The agency has since inspected stairs throughout the system. The stairs will now be checked as part of the routine station inspection report.

"Maintenance teams through inspection have prioritized repairs, but it should be noted that no installations were found that require immediate remediation," said Robert Troup, deputy general manager of operations.

For an agency trying to change its safety culture, Metro didn't consider failed intercoms a priority because it had more critical safety issues after the 2009 train crash identified a catastrophic flaw in the 1000 series rail cars and failures with the automatic train control system.

"We had the rollback, the door operating, these are very high priority items ... the focus at that time was on the most safety critical items in regards to the car," Sarles said.

He has made the intercom problem a priority now.

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