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You Can Probably Guess What Investigators Found At Metro’s Derailment Site

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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D.C. Metro officials failed to follow their own track inspection rules and ignored safety threats before the disastrous July train derailment in Virginia.

Federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released preliminary findings of their investigation Wednesday, revealing Metro officials were only conducting track inspections in the area of the accident roughly once a month. An orange line train derailed entering a track switch outside the East Falls Church station July 29, causing one minor injury. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) policy mandates tracks be checked and inspected every two weeks, reports WTOP.

NTSB officials said deteriorating rail ties on the tracks outside the East Falls Church station allowed tracks to move apart by nearly two inches, a flagrant violation of track safety standards. The defective track rail ties extended for 30 feet, despite Metro policy allowing a maximum of 10 feet of space between functioning ties. (RELATED: Layoffs Loom Over DC Metro As GM Calls For Meeting On Safety Procedures)

“Investigators noted a severe defective tie condition in the accident area,” a NTSB press release read. “WMATA standards call for 12 non-defective crossties in this area. Further WMATA standards require no more than 10 feet between non-defective ties. In the subject location investigators found more than 30 feet of track with no effective crossties.”

The NTSB investigation confirms earlier reports from officials with the D.C. Metro that blamed the derailment on deteriorating ties, however the NTSB report reveals further negligence on the part of WMATA inspectors. The NTSB findings came as Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld held a mandatory meeting with supervisors stressing safety over convenience, imploring workers to follow proper procedure.

“The investigation revealed systemic safety deficiencies in the maintenance and repair of track,” the Federal Transit Administration said Wednesday in a statement to WAMU. “The FTA will soon issue a detailed Track Integrity Investigation Report with systemic findings and a Safety Directive mandating required actions that WMATA must take to ensure the safety of the Metrorail system.”

The NTSB investigation is ongoing but officials do not believe the train operator inadvertently caused the derailment in any way.  Metro officials pledged to conduct track inspections, looking for any urgent safety threats in the system.

“While Metro and the outside experts continue their review, we are requiring supervisors to conduct a specialized track inspection to look for any other similar conditions that must be immediately addressed,” Wiedefeld said Monday in a statement.

Wiedefeld has repeatedly made clear he takes safety threats and violations of employee policy seriously and will not hesitate to fire employees to prove the point. The FTA took over safety oversight of Metro in October, marking a first for a major U.S. transit system.

Since federal oversight began, FTA officials have conducted more than 200 inspections of the system and continue to observe employees violating rules or failing to follow various safety procedures. FTA inspectors found more than 100 safety issues and violations of worker policy throughout the first two rounds of SafeTrack repairs in June.

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