Metro executives taken to task at derailment meeting

WASHINGTON — There were heated exchanges between Metro board members and executives on Thursday, as officials convened in a special meeting to discuss a recent train derailment near the Smithsonian station.

Deputy General Manager Rob Troup told board members that the Track Geometry Vehicle operator, who mistakenly deleted a code black warning of a rail defect near the station, accidentally pushed a button.

The operator did not delete the warning on purpose, Troup said Thursday.

His statement contradicts a recent report where Metro wrote that “the TGV technician erroneously deleted the defect from his ‘exception’ report, believing it to be a routine anomaly, such as those he is trained to see and delete in interlockings.”

“We don’t think it was a matter of the technician misinterpreting the data,” Troup said. “We just think he erroneous deleted it. It was just a misstep with the button. It wasn’t that he felt it should be deleted, it was just a misstep with the button.”

The notion that the operator could accidentally push a button, delete a warning and have it linger for four weeks without anyone noticing troubled several board members. They scolded Metro executives for not having enough measures to catch such a human error before it escalated.

Metro Interim General Manager Jack Requa agreed that the lapse should be addressed. Several board members had tough words about Metro’s management and culture.

“I have absolutely no confidence in the safety department,” said board member Corbett Price. “Rank-and-file employees are disciplined when there are safety lapses, but yet the management gets a pass. We cannot continue to allow this behavior going on.”

Troup told the board that he takes full responsibility for the derailment. D.C. transportation director Leif Dormsjo suggested some personnel changes might be needed at the top.

“We’ve heard from management for years that they’ve embraced the new safety culture in the aftermath of the Fort Totten tragedy,” Dormsjo said. “That’s simply not the case. We’ve got to shake things up here. The culpable parties are here today.”

Others in the meeting echoed his sentiments. “There just seems to be a lackadaisical attitude here and that’s got to change,” said D.C. councilman Jack Evans.

During the meeting, Metro Chief Safety Officer James Dougherty said his office mostly audits safety work. They don’t do the safety work themselves.

Requa was asked if Dougherty should lose his job.

“We’re reviewing the safety department,” Requa said. “We’re reviewing the functions that they perform. We’re reviewing the personnel activities.”

Troup was asked whether he himself should resign, but he wouldn’t answer that question.

Requa intervened, telling reporters it was his decision to make and he’ll review the activities related to the incident.

Meanwhile, the investigation continues. It’s still unclear if track walkers should have spotted problems between July 9 and Aug. 6.

Troup said track walkers inspected the tracks eight times between those dates.

A final report will be delivered to the Tristate Oversight Committee on Oct. 4.

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