New train radio failed before Metro riders bailed in tunnel

WASHINGTON — When a Red Line train packed with hockey and baseball fans stopped in a tunnel last week, radio communication to the train operator failed because the built-in radio “had a defect” — even though the train was made up entirely of Metro’s shiny new 7000-series cars.

Preliminary findings to be presented to the Metro board Thursday show the communication problems eventually led to a track worker bringing the train operator a handheld radio as the train sat just outside of the Farragut North station. Train operators are supposed to carry handheld radios themselves, too.

Defects in the car-mounted radio led to the communication problems, according to a presentation that will be shown to the board.

The wait for any type of communication with the train was at least four minutes.

Initially, the train had to hold at a red signal in part because the Rail Operations Control Center failed to properly set up a single-tracking zone. A train that was out of service had just used the extra track outside the station to turn around, which apparently led to the switch pointing the wrong way.

After about 18 minutes of being stopped in a tunnel, a person on the next train that was halted by the switch problem decided to exit the train. A second rider exited about 10 minutes later.

Once those two people were walked back to the Farragut North platform a very short distance away, a rail supervisor got on the train and moved the train back to the platform.

Riders on the train were able to get off the train about 32 minutes after the train first stopped, but had to wait for another train to come through to continue their trips.

Metro said it’s still analyzing the event recorder on the train.

Immediate changes include a recommended change to rules and procedures for train operators to improve communications when a train is stopped at a red signal.

The Rail Operations Control Center staff, who have been criticized in the past, will also get new lessons on blocking switches, train evacuation procedures and communications with the public.

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