The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the achievement of two safety milestones last week, satisfying the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations in response to a 2009 crash and reducing total crimes levels to the lowest since 2005.
The recommendations that the NTSB officially completed this week included removing and replacing the 1000-series railcars, creating tunnel ventilation procedures for employees in case of fire and implementing better training for employees on how to mitigate the effects of a fire. The NTSB still maintains 26 other open recommendations, including 12 that WMATA has claimed to have already addressed.
The first closed recommendation came in response to a 2009 crash when two Metro railcars collided on the Red line because of a faulty track circuit. Nine people died and 80 were injured in the crash, the deadliest incident in Metro history. In response, the NTSB required WMATA to develop new safety measures, including replacing track circuit modules and developing a safety-issue reporting program for employees. The replacement of old 1000-series cars with new and more secure 7000-series trains was the last open recommendation regarding the crash that WMATA addressed.
The third and fourth recommendations closed by the NTSB last week were initially put in place in response to a 2015 L’Enfant Plaza incident, in which one passenger died and 84 people were hospitalized because of heavy smoke filling a train after an electrical malfunction.
These changes are the result of commitment to customer safety and satisfaction, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in a Feb. 2 news release.
“The closure of this recommendation is the result of the Board’s investment in 7000-series railcars and reflects nearly eight years of hard work and commitment from many staff members throughout the organization,” Wiedefeld said. “We are committed to improving safety and continue to work to address all remaining NTSB safety recommendations.”
WMATA also touted the $1.16 billion it has spent in the last fiscal year to improve the safety of its lines.
“Metro expects to invest another $1.25 billion in capital during fiscal year 2018, including a new preventive maintenance program to improve the safety and reliability of track infrastructure,” the news release read.
The transit company also announced a recent decrease in crime rates on the Metro system. The agency announced crime had fallen to its lowest levels since 2005 in a Feb. 1 news release. There were 1,282 major crimes reported in 2017 on WMATA property — 19 percent less incidents than in 2016.
Metro noted that levels of aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft and rape were down by 27 percent, 45 percent and 67 percent, respectively. Furthermore, there were no homicides, arsons or burglaries in 2017.
Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald Pavlik said in the Feb. 1 news release that Metro would continue to make safety improvements to help its customers.
“I want to commend every member of the Metro Transit Police Department for their hard work throughout the year to achieve these results,” Pavlik said. “I also want to thank our customers and employees for being alert, taking steps to protect their valuables, and reporting suspicious activity or unattended items they encounter.”
Despite these overall improvements, WMATA continues to face significant problems. Average weekday rail ridership is only 612,000, the lowest it has been since 2001. There has been a 10 percent increase in fires on the Metro since August 2017.
Additionally, a Red line train derailment last month caused inspectors to express concerns over the quality and reliability of Metro’s radio system after police officers and the train operator were unable to communicate after the crash because of a faulty radio. WMATA Board Chairman Jack Evans told WTOP on Feb. 2 that this issue and others would be addressed.
“All of this is going to enhance our ability to communicate 100 percent,” Evans said. “We’re buying the new radios, fixing the system, doing everything that’s necessary to make it 100 percent reliable.”