Metro opens police investigation into Silver Line derailment near East Falls Church

WASHINGTON — Metro Transit Police have opened an investigation into last month’s derailment of a Silver Line train on crumbling tracks near East Falls Church.

In a statement issued Thursday, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said he ordered the investigation after safety investigators outlined concerns from their own interviews of Metro workers, reviews of inspection reports and video recordings. Also, investigators evaluated Metro’s history of issues tracking problems on the rails.

“While Safety Department investigations determine cause and accountability, it is even more important to understand if other issues must be addressed with the way track inspections and maintenance have been conducted,” the statement said.

That is in addition to a Federal Transit Administration review of the derailment, which was incorporated into a scathing track safety report last week, and an initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Metro’s new general counsel has hired two former federal prosecutors as special investigators to support the internal administrative review, which is separate from the police investigation.

“The public has a right to know that the tracks on which their trains run are being properly inspected,” Wiedefeld said in the statement. “The information uncovered to date raises potentially serious concerns, and we will take all actions necessary to get answers and hold people accountable.”

Since the derailment, Metro has said inspectors are actually checking tracks as scheduled and issues are being followed up on. That has included loose fasteners being fixed leading to weekday single tracking and new complete shutdowns planned for areas like the crossover where the Silver Line train derailed.

The Blue Line track work that had been scheduled to start this weekend has instead been delayed a week so that crews can first work on a crossover near Franconia-Springfield that will be getting heavy use during the work zone.

  • Q: What is the Silver Line extension?
  • It’s an 11.5-mile, six-station stretch of track added on to the Silver Line (which marks the first time Metro will head into Loudoun County, and it will bring rail riders to Dulles International Airport for the first time.)

  • Q: What are the new stations?
  • As of Monday, the Silver Line ends at Wiehle-Reston East. Starting Tuesday, it extends to Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Washington Dulles International Airport, Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn.

    In a burst of optimism, Metro released the new map last month.

  • Q: So you can take the Metro to Dulles now?
  • It’s true! Metro estimates it’ll take about 53 minutes to get there from Metro Center, 62 minutes from Reagan National Airport. There’s an underground walkway between baggage claim and the station, and it’s about a five-minute walk, Metro said.

    In fact, you’ll be losing some of the other options for getting to Dulles: The Silver Line Express Bus service, run by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority between Dulles and the Wiehle-Reston East station, is ending Nov. 16, and the Fairfax County Connector routes 980 and 981, which both went to the airport, are shutting down Nov. 16.

    That said, Jack Potter, the president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said the extension is a big deal for the airport, and in turn for travelers: Easy access to downtown will attract new airlines to Dulles, he said. “This has been a vision for Dulles Airport for 70 years,” Potter said.

  • Q: So when does the first train leave?
  • The first eastbound train leaves Ashburn for Largo, Maryland, just before 2 p.m. Tuesday. There are a couple of ceremonial westbound trips, but the first full-on trip to Ashburn shoves off from Largo at 12:51 p.m.

  • Q: How much did this all cost?
  • A cool $3 billion. It’s about $250 million over budget, which Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Jeff McKay was not thrilled about when it was announced this summer. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors kicked in $40.25 million this month, after the opening date was announced.

  • Q: And how long has this been in the works?
  • Hoo boy.

    The first projection was that this second phase of the Silver Line would be running in 2018. That’s been adjusted multiple times over the years: Storm water problems, concrete problems, locusts (OK maybe not locusts). They’ve dealt with some stuff is what I’m saying.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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