U.S. Transit Administrator Exposes WMATA's Flaws
A safety culture in shambles is what Peter Rogoff said exists inside the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, but he put it more nicely when he said its Safety Department "has been dysfunctional and ineffective."
The Federal Transit Administration has taken a rare look inside the safety culture of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, conducting an audit at the request of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, with the encouragement of WMATA's interim chief safety officer. Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff released the audit report yesterday and also released a statement about the findings. While he described a WMATA safety culture in shambles -- Rogoff said its Safety Department "has been dysfunctional and ineffective" -- he made it clear there are problems in other large transit agencies around the country and said Congress must pass the Obama administration's transit safety reform bill (S. 1506, the National Metro Safety Act). Without it, FTA cannot propose safety regulations or conduct safety oversight, he said.
"The Metrorail crash last summer certainly accelerated our efforts within the Obama Administration to develop and transmit our transit safety reform bill," Rogoff said. "However, we have also been focused on accidents and safety lapses at the Chicago Transit Authority, the MUNI system in San Francisco, the 'T' up in Boston, and elsewhere. While we believe the situation at Washington Metro is particularly troubling, some of the deficiencies and vulnerabilities that we identified in our audit of Metro and the [Tri-State Oversight Committee] are similar to problems that exist at transit agencies and State Safety Organizations across America. That is precisely why we need Congress to move forward with our transit safety reform bill now."
At the time the audit was conducted, WMATA's Safety Department had a 25 percent vacancy rate, and the department had been reorganized six times since 2005 and had been headed by four different individuals since 2007, he said.
Train crashes are not the only safety incidents the agency has experienced recently; two track workers were stuck and killed by a track repair vehicle. Rogoff addressed this directly, saying WMATA "must institute a better process for protecting track workers." WMATA developed right-of-way protection rules after a 2006 accident, but FTA interviews showed WMATA employees have not been trained on them and, instead, were merely asked to sign indicating they had received them. Nor has the Safety Department been tasked to conduct an analysis of revisions in the rules WMATA intends to make, he said.
"Also, supervisors and operators told FTA that communications from right-of-way workers do not specify their exact location on the alignment," Rogoff said. "Specifically, operators stated that in some cases they do not know if workers are on the [track] alignment until they have visual contact, and, when this occurs, especially in 'blind spots,' operators have limited ability to slow the train."