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Transportation Secretary Threatens DC Metro With Full Shutdown

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is threatening Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) with a complete shutdown of the transit system if it doesn’t meet a strict timeline for safety reforms.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave WMATA officials an ultimatum Saturday to fix a range of safety issues after a track explosion shut down two stations. Foxx said Tuesday he strongly considered shutting down the system last week after the fire, but instead chose to hand down a strict timeline for fixes. Foxx said officials still do not know what caused the track explosion, which deeply concerns him, reports WJLA.

“We have the ability to withhold funds from Metro,” Foxx told reporters Tuesday. “We have the ability to shut Metro down, and we’re not afraid to use the authority we have. This is serious business.”

Foxx said without knowing the problem officials have no hope of fixing the issue. Foxx noted after watching the video of the track explosion there was likely way too much electrical power surging through the third rail, possibly making it unstable. Last week’s incident, which Foxx described as “scary,” showered the platform at Federal Center station with sparks seconds after a crowded commuter train left the station, reports NBC Washington.

Federal officials were troubled with WMATA’s lackluster response to the fire incident. The FTA found officials responded slowly and misdiagnosed the mechanical failure which sparked the explosion. Federal inspectors 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 a second fire. For hours before the second fire, WMATA sent passenger filled trains on the potentially dangerous track. (RELATED: Fireball On DC Metro Leads FTA To Slap Officials With Safety Ultimatum)

The FTA is requiring WMATA officials to conduct a series of drills centered on emergency response. Officials were given a list of actions Saturday which WMATA must take by May 16, including retraining workers on emergency responses, reducing the amount of trains in service and conducting daily inspections.

If they fail to meet the deadline, Foxx said either funding will be cut or the system will be shut down.

“Fixing the track is one thing, but some of these [incidents] may involve power plant issues, issues that go deeper into the system,” Foxx said. “It’s up to them. They have to follow the directive. They have to do it expeditiously.”

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