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Federal Inspectors Shred DC Metro: ‘Clear Concern For Public Safety’

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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In a scathing letter to the D.C. Metro, federal inspectors ripped the deteriorating system for a litany of problems they say require immediate action and pose a significant threat to public safety.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) wrote to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld criticizing the many technical problems and saftey issues they found over the course of roughly 100 inspections in the past month, reports The Washington Post. The FTA found broken fire extinguishers, blocked emergency routes covered in construction debris and broken emergency traction power shut-off switches.

“Although we are still compiling our final report from these inspections, the seriousness of these findings and a clear concern for public safety compel me to direct WMATA to take immediate action,” Thomas Littleton, FTA associate administrator for safety said in the letter obtained by The Washington Post. “In combination with one another, these defects create a systematic safety condition that significantly limits WMATA’s ability to manage a fire or smoke emergency in the tunnel.”

A rail cable fire at the McPherson Square station in March led to massive delays and prompted Wiedefeld to announce a 29-hour closure of the entire Metro to address the crumbling system. Similar problems with cables led to a January 2015 fire at the L’Enfant Plaza station that left one passenger dead and several injured after smoke filled a stopped train car in the tunnel. (RELATED: Angry Commuters Buckle Up For Day Without Metro)

FTA inspectors also observed Metro employees violating safety procedures on numerous occasions, putting themselves and commuters at risk. They found trains ignoring speed restrictions in tunnels and workers ignoring the “15-second ample time rule” as trains approach, sometimes jumping out of a train’s way with only seconds to spare.

Republicans in Congress seized the opportunity to criticize Metro, which they and many Democrats say is failing to enforce safety procedures. Metro officials faced off with Congress last week, where representatives on the House Oversight Committee hammered the WMATA for their seemingly endless technical failures. (RELATED: House Republicans Rip ‘Mismanaged’ Of DC Metro, Demand Heads Roll)

“While we all acknowledge that this system cannot be fixed overnight by new General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, it is clear that common safety procedures have gone ignored for far too long,” Representative Barbara Comstock told The Washington Post. “This is simply more evidence that Metro needs a culture change and a top-to-bottom restructuring so that it can provide safe and efficient service.”

Wiedefeld is expected to roll out a comprehensive, two-year plan in the coming weeks to fix the broken rails and restore commuter confidence in the Metro system.

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