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FTA: More Metro trains running red signals, major changes needed

More Metro trains have run through red signals this year than in either 2013 or 2014, and the Federal Transit Administration says in a new safety directive that Metro’s efforts to retrain operators and controllers have failed to help. (Courtesy of FTA's Facebook)

WASHINGTON – More Metro trains have run through red signals this year than in 2013 or 2014, and the Federal Transit Administration said in a new safety directive that Metro’s efforts to retrain operators and controllers have failed to help.

“Given both the pervasiveness and seriousness of this problem,” the directive says, Metro needs to “immediately improve its testing and observation of Train and Equipment Operators, including regular review of track circuit downloads for speeding and speed gun testing for manual vehicle operations on the mainline and in yards.”

The FTA, which took lead oversight of the Metro system from the Tristate Oversight Committee, also finds that train operators are not familiar enough with the locations of signals on their routes or required train speeds.

Another finding indicates that “train operators consistently feel pressure to rush through routes and speed up train movements,” so “WMATA must conduct an assessment of current schedule and headways to ensure realistic operating times so employees aren’t speeding and rushing to make time.”

The FTA is also directing Metro to immediately improve radio protocols so that all commands are read back as confirmation.

The order also directs better retraining for operators that run a red signal, including going out to the site of the incident and re-training for the operator for the entire line where the signal was blown through.

Last year, Metro conducted an internal investigation into red signal violations in the system, and the FTA says Metro needs to begin a safety campaign to alert workers to the most common causes.

One potential technical solution suggested by the FTA is building in speed limits to the trains or realigning systems that can alert operators to or stop trains when approaching a red signal or going too fast.

Other parts of the directive issued Tuesday to incorporate separate, outstanding issues that had been addressed by the Tristate Oversight Committee, some of which Metro had already been moving to address. Some of those open issues date as far back as 2008.

The FTA carried out its first safety oversight inspections as the lead oversight agency for Metro between Nov. 30 and Dec. 10.

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