Metro says more than 50 train operators who were certified — despite a safety watchdog finding they hadn’t met the agency’s training requirements — have now been provided the necessary extra training.
That’s according to documents provided to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, which last week requested a list of the train operators. The safety commission held a public meeting Tuesday to discuss the matter.
Metro told the safety watchdog that a total of 54 train operators were certified despite not receiving the required training and that, as of Tuesday, 51 of them had been retrained, safety commission CEO David Mayer said during the meeting. The other three operators are on leave.
The training issue came to light last week, when the safety commission issued a directive ordering Metro to provide a list of train operators who had not been trained following the agency’s own procedures.
According to Metro’s procedures, train operators are supposed to have at least eight hours of basic training led by an instructor on an out-of-service train before progressing to training on the tracks on a passenger train. That follow-up training is not by an instructor but by another train operator who acts as a “mentor.”
The safety commission said it had discovered Metro was “deliberately ignoring” its own training standards by allowing operators to bypass the eight hours of initial training.
At an online media briefing last week, Metro officials blasted the safety commission.
Citing the ongoing 7000-series train shortage, General Manager Randy Clarke said, unbeknownst to the safety commission, Metro had recently decided to add those eight hours of training to the end of the 30 hours of the follow-up training train operators undergo.
“The staff working very closely together again, between transportation and training and safety, decided to make an adjustment,” Clarke said, adding that trainees still got the full 38 hours of training and pass an exam before they are certified.
However, the safety commission said Tuesday that the documents turned over by Metro indicated the transit agency never actually changed its training requirements.
“There were no changes to the training,” said deputy CEO Sharmila Samarasinghe. “The documented training requirements that existed last month are the same documented requirements that exist today, and Metro should have complied with their own training procedures.”
Added Mayer, “Metro has told us they did not change their procedures and they have retrained these operators to comport with their procedures.”
Last week, Metro said complying with an earlier deadline from the safety commission on the train operator training would have resulted in cutting service and increased waits for some Metro riders.
After some back and forth between the safety commission and Metro, the commission agreed to give Metro more time last week in order to avoid cutting service to several lines.
The WMSC has granted Metrorail a stay until January 24, 2023 of our directive requiring Metrorail to provide a list of train operators Metrorail certified despite not meeting Metrorail’s safety training requirements.
— Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (@MetrorailSafety) January 16, 2023
In another move last week, the safety commission gave Metro the OK to inspect 7000-series less frequently — from every four days to every seven days.
The inspections are necessary because the wheels on the 7000-series rail cars are prone to widen too far apart on their axles, making them prone to derailment.
Initially, the safety commission expressed reservations about Metro reducing the schedule of inspections, issuing a directive last week halting a move.
Speaking Tuesday, Samarasinghe, with the safety commission, said Metro had provided further data and documents to support their request.
While the safety commission signed off on the move, some commissioners expressed concerns about Metro’s practices for documenting the inspections, saying it could lead to inconsistent data collection.
“Once the data is compromised by making changes midstream, the conclusions that you come up with later from the data can be suspect, so we need to be careful of that,” said Robert Lauby, an alternate commissioner representing Virginia on the safety watchdog.