Allegations DC Metro Ignored Safety Report Renews Calls For Train Automation

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Washington Area Metro Transit Authority (WMATA) consultants are calling on transit officials to review a 2015 safety report and implement an automated system for train operations in the wake of repeated human errors, one which risked the lives of passengers and employees.

The the metro system formerly used automatic rail operation which acted as a safeguard against operator error. Many are calling on officials to revisit the system after a recent red light violation almost resulted in a head-on collision in a tunnel, report WUSA9.

“I’d love to see Metro bring back Automatic Train Control as soon as they’re able to fix some of the more immediate, urgent safety issues,” David Alpert, founder of Greater Greater Washington, told WUSA9. “It’s better for riders and it’s better for safety.”

WMATA officials commissioned a report in 2014 looking at why train operators ran red signals, a dangerous circumstance that has caused a number of near miss tunnel collisions in 2016. The report, given to officials in April, 2015, provided recommendations to deal with operators “zoning out” while controlling a train, reports WAMU.

“Every red signal violation brings with it the potential for a catastrophic accident,” Randy Jamieson, a consultant for the report, told WAMU in July. Jamieson said WMATA officials appear to be ignoring the findings in their report. “They have not returned any of our calls.”

Consultants called for implementing a system of automatic rail operation, among other recommendations, to ensure operator fatigue does not result in more accidents. It remains unclear if WMATA officials have reviewed or used any of the recommendations included in the report.

“There is a past practice with WMATA where they hire consultants to come in and do needed work, we get the recommendations, and there is no follow up,” WMATA board member Leif Dormsjo told WAMU. “We need to know whether the recommendations are going to be accepted, rejected, or modified.”

Metro officials confirm there have been more than 65 red signal violations since 2012. There were three incidents in July alone. In February, two trains came within 200 feet of colliding after an operator blew through a red signal.

An operator put two trains of passengers at risk after having a dispute with a superior over a lunch break July 5. The operator violated a series of protocols before entering the tunnel, shutting off his radio, closing the doors of the train before receiving the proper signal and running a red stop signal.

The train approached the Glenmont Station, ran a red signal, then entered a switch, which placed it on the same track as an oncoming train. Moving at 12 miles per hour, the train almost hit two maintenance workers in the tunnel who jumped out of the way. The maintenance workers eventually got the attention of the operator who finally stopped the train.

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