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State Officials Rip DC Metro’s ‘Leadership Crisis’ Amid Disastrous Week

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

Congressmen are blasting the D.C. Metro’s leadership, and Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called the Metro Board “a joke” Wednesday that engages in “naive political theater.”

Metro officials faced a roasting at a congressional hearing Friday, which addressed the transit agency’s perennial breakdowns and human failures. A report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found officials knew about the track issues that lead to a July train derailment a year before it happened. Furthermore, the report showed that in the lead up to the derailment, officials may have ignored track conditions and falsified reports, reports The Washington Post.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told the congressional committee Friday that he hired two independent prosecutors to investigate the actions of track inspectors.

“What we have here is a systemic failure to address real problems,” Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said at the hearing Friday. “To hear reports of falsified reports, it’s mind-blowing.”

The NTSB report confirmed earlier suspicions that Metro officials knew about deteriorating track conditions long before the derailment. Investigators for the NTSB said that track inspectors appeared to be fabricating track reports by simply copying information from outdated reports. (RELATED: In Slow Motion Death Spiral, DC Metro Announces More Cuts)

The report is the latest to highlight Metro employees and supervisors ignoring internal safety codes and fragrantly violating policies. The initial investigation by the NTSB revealed Metro officials were only checking on the track in the area of the accident roughly once a month, despite rules mandating thorough inspections every two weeks.

The bashing of Metro leadership was bipartisan at the Friday hearing. Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said in prepared remarks that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) was suffering a “leadership crisis” and the system could be “so dysfunctional that a federal takeover is our only option,” according to WJLA.

A vote approving late-night service cuts by the Metro Board Thursday to deal with a growing budget shortfall added to criticisms leveled at WMATA and its leadership this week. The Board endorsed a plan to close the system at 11:30 p.m. on weekdays, 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11 p.m. on Sunday.

The decision served to highlight the dysfunction at the upper levels of Metro leadership. Board Chairman Jack Evans, a D.C. Council member, vowed after the decision that the Council would veto the Board’s decision.

“We believe we’ve compromised enormously,” Evans said at the Thursday Metro Board meeting. “The board can do what it wants to do. I’ve made my decision clear on behalf of the District of Columbia. We will exercise jurisdictional veto.”

Federal officials revealed in November that repairs of the D.C. Metro system related to SafeTrack will cost nearly double what the agency originally budgeted and will extend into the summer. Despite the agency’s budgetary woes and continued failure to administer SafeTrack repairs on time, leaders from the agency proposed a new initiative Wednesday for the system after repairs end.

The ambitious plan seeks to reduce delays by 25 percent by retiring two fleets of trains and upgrading all eight car trains to the new 7000 series models.

Metro is currently facing a budget shortfall of $275 million. Analysts warn that if trends continue, the D.C. Metro will have a $1.1 billion budget shortfall by 2020.

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