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Fireball On DC Metro Leads FTA To Slap Officials With Safety Ultimatum

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is handing down an ultimatum to D.C. Metro to fix a range of safety issues after a track explosion shut down two stations last week.

Officials were given a list of actions Saturday which Metro must take by May 16, including retraining workers on emergency responses, conducting infrared scans of the tunnels to reduce the risk of fires and even reducing the amount of trains in service, reports WJLA. If Metro fails to meet the deadline, the FTA said they could see up to 25 percent of their financial assistance withheld, or be forced to reduce service until the FTA’s standards are met.

The FTA is requiring Metro officials to conduct a series of drills centered on emergency response. Officials will also be required to conduct daily inspections of tracks, looking for fire hazards. The decision came after FTA investigators found a series of failures in Metro’s response to Thursday’s track explosion. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld released a comprehensive plan to repair the deteriorating system Friday, but a FTA spokesman said Saturday it does not go far enough. (RELATED: DC Metro Unveils Repair Plan That Will Cripple The System For One Year)

Metro suspended service on a number of lines for the entirety of Thursday evening after the fire, sparking major delays across the city. The FTA found officials responded slowly and misdiagnosed the mechanical failure which sent sparks flying over the platform at the Federal Center southwest station.

Metro maintenance personnel requested the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) cut power to the line after the first track incident Thursday morning, however ROCC personnel denied the request until the second fire. For hours before the second fire, Metro sent passenger filled trains on the potentially dangerous track, reports The Washington Post.

The National Transportation and Safety Administration (NTSB) released a report May 3 showing a “reprehensible” disregard for safety procedures in a tunnel smoke incident which left one woman dead and 91 injured. Metro operators routinely used passenger-filled trains to inspect reports of smoke or other rail trouble in a tunnel. If a train encounters a track fire, it is often unable to move in the tunnel, forcing passenger evacuations. (RELATED: DC Metro Unnecessarily Put Passengers At Risk In Deadly 2015 Fire)

Metro’s chairman Jack Evans said they will meet the FTA’s timeline and work to fix the miscommunication surrounding Thursday’s fire. “Whatever deadlines they put out we will meet,” Evans told WJLA. “We will get things done. This is 15 years of neglect. Enough is enough. We have put this off way too long.”

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