Car driven onto tracks at Union Station highlights security risks

A person was able to drive their car across a station platform onto the tracks last winter — and Amtrak security failures are to blame, a report finds.

The report from the Amtrak Office of Inspector General identifies a number of ways people can access restricted areas in the station, putting both riders and workers at risk.

“We identified weaknesses in the perimeter and interior security in the station and yard, including poor lighting, nonworking video surveillance cameras and an inefficient incident reporting process made worse by the use of obsolete radio equipment,” the report said.

On March 15, the car drove through an entrance with a roll gate that had been broken since at least 2015, the report found. Contracted security guards were also not doing their jobs, allowing people to access stations, platforms and tracks with no restrictions.

The car ended up becoming stuck on a track frequently used by MARC Camden Line trains.

A person was able to drive their car across a station platform onto the tracks this winter, highlighting Amtrak security failures. (Courtesy Amtrak Office of Inspector General)

Since the incident, Amtrak has begun fixes to install a new gate and signage, but the report warned people may still be able to walk through the entrance. The $425,000 repairs are due to be finished by the end of September.

Union Station is Amtrak’s second busiest station nationwide after New York’s Penn Station, serving more than 5 million riders.

The inspector general’s office acknowledged some recommended safety changes over the last decade at Union Station, such as bollards in front of the station, card readers on certain doors, and expanded fencing and surveillance cameras.

Last winter, Amtrak cut the number of people who could access the ticket office from 589 to 53.

“The company has taken important steps to address some security vulnerabilities at Washington Union Station and Ivy City Yard, but other longstanding security weaknesses remain unaddressed and are placing passengers and employees at risk,” the report said.

Doors are regularly left propped open instead of locked, door combination codes have not been changed in years, a number of security cameras do not work, and rail yard areas are too dark for workers to do their jobs or feel safe.

In the yard area, employees are concerned about the homeless people who sleep in some spots. Copper cables have been stolen which have prevented commuter trains from pulling out on time.

Failures of contracted security guards to check authorizations has also led to a former employee coming to the maintenance area to threaten others and slash car tires, and threats from a former employee and employee’s spouse.

Details on issues at the rail yard are heavily redacted, but many issues have apparently not been addressed in part because it is unclear which departments are responsible.

Amtrak police have additional challenges responding to incidents due to complicated dispatch policies and shoddy radios.

The police department has requested funding for radio replacement.

Amtrak leaders promised a plan by September for how remaining issues will be addressed.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up