Metro’s chief safety officer resigns

WASHINGTON — Metro’s chief safety officer resigned Thursday — the same day as a Metro board meeting addressing the Aug. 6 train derailment near the Smithsonian station and how it could have been prevented.

Metro Interim General Manager Jack Requa issued a statement Thursday that he had accepted the resignation of James Dougherty, the chief safety officer at Metro.

Requa accepted the resignation after the board meeting. Metro could not offer any additional details about the resignation.

Requa named the Deputy Chief Safety Officer Louis Brown as the Acting Chief Safety Officer while a search is underway for a permanent successor.

Dougherty had been with Metro for five years.

There were heated exchanges between Metro board members and executives during the derailment meeting Thursday. Deputy General Manager Rob Troup told members that the Track Geometry Vehicle operator, who mistakenly deleted a code black warning of a rail defect near the Smithsonian station, didn’t do it on purpose.

His statement contradicted 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.”

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 in place to catch such a human error before it escalated.

Requa agreed the issue should be addressed. Several board members chided the agency’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 said he took full responsibility for what happened in the incident. D.C. transportation director Leif Dormsjo suggested some personnel changes be made 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. And that’s simply not the case.  We’ve got to shake things up here,” Dormsjo said. “The culpable parties are here today. They’re in this room.”

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

Requa was asked after the meeting if Dougherty should lose his job.

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

Troup was also asked if he himself should resign, but he wouldn’t answer the question. Requa intervened and told reporters it was his decision to make.

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

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

WTOP’s Ari Ashe contributed to this report.

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