WASHINGTON - Metro's had a busy summer with trains traveling on the wrong tracks, intercoms not working and even a disabled train that caused long commutes home on Wednesday evening.
At Metro's monthly meeting, board members went back and forth with General Manager Richard Sarles, Deputy General Manager Rob Troup and Tri-State Oversight Committee Chair James Benton about the issues.
Board member Mortimer Downey says that the problems with the intercoms reminded him of the safety culture that existed in the lead up to the deadly 2009 Metro crash outside Fort Totten.
Recently, the agency admitted knowing about an issue where intercoms wouldn't work back in 2009, but the problem was lost in the shuffle between the Catoe and Sarles administration and wasn't addressed until recently.
The problem occurs when a 6000-series car leads a train with either a 1000- or 4000-series car behind it. Metro has fixed the 1000-series cars, but repairing the 4000-series cars could take a few months. In the meantime, Metro will avoid the troublesome configuration.
"I had always wished it had been done sooner," Sarles says.
He argues that more critical repairs took precedence over the last four years, namely implementing the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations after the 2009 crash. Among the recommendations were to replace the troubled 1000-series cars and fix the automated control signal system that contributed to the crash.
Sarles also points out that the agency is also working to repair infrastructure that was not maintained during previous administrations. He believes the transit agency will need until 2017 to get Metro to a point of where it should have been when he took over. All of these projects are time-consuming and delayed fixing the intercom problems, he says.
Benton agrees that the safety culture at Metro is much different than it was in 2009. His Tri-State Oversight Committee is a watchdog to Metro on safety issues to ensure the agency is doing what it's supposed to to.
"Once we were notified in April, we immediately contacted Metro and they've been very good about keeping us up to date on fixing the intercom issues," he says. "I do believe this problem will be corrected."
Orange and Blue line snafus
Sarles also addressed and incident July 3 when an Orange Line train was sent to the Blue Line, a snafu that caused confusion among passengers and train operators.
"We certainly don't want to inconvenience our passengers by taking them to the wrong station. It shouldn't happen," he says. "Here is an analogy: You come to a light and want to go straight ahead. The light is red, but the left arrow is a green signal. You take the turn. It's a safe move and instead of being an Orange Line train, you become a Blue Line train."
Metro says the Orange Line train was misidentified as a Blue Line train, causing the operations control center to send it to the wrong destination.
This past Tuesday, Metro says a Blue Line train experiencing problems had to back up, but when the Orange Line train behind it approached, someone forgot to switch the signal over.
But when reporters asked Sarles how the agency plans to prevent similar errors in the future, he wasn't specific.
"I am reviewing that and will see if we can make modifications," he said, repeating that the recent track problems are under review.
As far as the incident Wednesday evening, Metro says a disabled trained had brake problems and the agency immediately sent out a technician to diagnose and fix the problem. When he was unable to do so, a rescue train had to be brought in during rush hour to offload the passengers.
Riders reported waiting several hours with little communication about the nature of the problem. The disabled train caused delays for other Blue and Orange line trains.
The Tri-State Oversight Committee is overseeing the review of the incident to ensure Metro handled it properly.