For three years, inspectors apparently copied and pasted inspection reports for an underground metro station in Washington, D.C., then a metal beam fell from the ceiling.
No one was hurt in that incident, which occurred in the fall of 2016, but it was a wake up call for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to find out what went wrong.
A report from the inspector general released Thursday reveals critical weaknesses in the inspection protocols for the primary public transportation system for the nation’s capitol.
On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 2016, corroded bolts caused pieces of concrete, lighting fixtures and a large steel beam fell from the ceiling of the Rhode Island Avenue metro station, forcing the station to close for a few days. That could have been prevented if it had procedures to inspect certain hard-to-see areas and ensured that inspection reports were actually conducted. (RELATED: There’s So Much Human Hair In DC’s Metro It’s Now A Fire Hazard)
Over a three-year period, a total of 49 inspection reports contained identical language, leading the inspector general to conclude that “remarks are being copied and pasted from year to year, which makes it difficult to verify a new inspection was done.”
After the falling ceiling incident, the initial inspectors reports found the bolts holding up a large steel brace, 16 feet from the floor, had rusted and apparently no one had noticed.
One inspection in 2015 noted that there was a crack in the concrete where the metal brace and concrete pieces fell, but the 2016 follow-up report didn’t list any issues with that area. And, inspectors weren’t required to look at hard-to-see or inaccessible places.
“There are no policies and procedures to inspect non-visual and hard-to-reach areas,” and “the inspection area where the incident occurred was unassigned,” the new report claims.
The Rhode Island metro station will be closed for 45 days starting July 21 for repairs of the damaged area — which since the fall of 2016 have been patched with temporary wooden braces and a safety netting that was still in place when inspectors visited in January.
As for addressing inspection weaknesses in the future, WMATA said it would work to improve inspection protocols.
“This level of inspection may not have been required when Metro’s infrastructure was younger. However, as OIG noted, ‘as the infrastructure ages, additional inspection techniques need to be deployed,'” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel told The Washington Post. “We concur.”
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