Metro: Track problems detected before derailment

February 21, 2024 | NBC Washington's Adam Tuss explains what caused the train to derail. (NBC Washington's Adam Tuss )

WASHINGTON — Metro’s interim general manager says the derailment of one of its trains near the Smithsonian Station last week could have been avoided and took the blame for the significant service disruptions that lasted most of a day.

At a news conference Wednesday, Metro Interim General Manager Jack Requa said the cause was a track defect known as a “wide gauge” — a problem detected a month before the Aug. 6 derailment, but never repaired.

Metro Interim General Manager Jack Requa says the derailment was preventable and the incident was “unacceptable.” (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

Such a defect occurs when the width of the tracks expand to such a degree that the wheels of the train don’t attach to the rails anymore. He says it’s another example of past administrations underfunding repairs and upkeep on the system.

Metro’s Blue, Orange and Silver lines were suspended between McPherson Square and Federal Center Southwest stations on the morning of Aug. 6 while crews worked to set derailed cars back on the tracks.

“I don’t want mince words, but this is totally unacceptable,” Requa says of the problem detected on July 9. “It is unacceptable to me and it should be unacceptable to everyone within the chain of command.”

Metro Deputy General Manager Rob Troup says vehicles found the problem and it was flagged as a “code black,” which means the track should’ve been taken out of service immediately and repairs begun.

Requa is not sure why the problem was not fixed in the weeks between detection and derailment, but he says Metro is investigating where the communication breakdown occurred to make sure it never happens again. He added that among the options for anyone responsible is discipline or termination, and he cannot defend what happened.

As to customers affected, Requa apologized once again for the inconvenience last Thursday and Friday mornings. Metro gave a refund to customers who used the system on Friday because it guaranteed the system would be back to normal around 7 a.m. and it did not live up to that promise because of third rail power problems that forced passengers to be evacuated from a train.

“The credits were issued to over 158,000 customers. The average credit was $4.75. And the total cost was about $750,000,” says Requa.

The refund is a historic one for the agency on such a large scale. Metro refunded fares to customers last December when there was a water main break near Metro Center, but that refund was limited in scope to a relatively small set of customers who were directly impacted.

The Metro Board of Directors and its committees will not be meeting for the rest of the month. But the topic is likely to come up again when Metro reconvenes public meetings on Sept. 10.

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