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When and where are Metro trains most likely to speed and run signals?

An internal Metro safety review finds when trains are most likely to speed and run red signals, and what they plan to do to reduce such problems. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — Metro trains are more likely to run red signals Monday mornings and afternoons and Friday at lunchtime than at any other time of day, and safety investigators believe that cutting trains’ top speeds or making those stop signals brighter could help cut down on major safety incidents.

An internal Metro safety department review recommends cutting the top speed the train will allow itself to go to 59 mph — the actual speed limit train operators are supposed to follow across the system — from 75 mph today.

The software upgrades that could be implemented over the next two years would also reduce the maximum speed a train can accelerate to in certain override situations to 10 mph from 75 mph today. In other override situations, the changes would also be reduced to 10 mph from 15 mph.

Those changes are projected to take one year for the new 7000 Series cars, and two years for the older 2000, 3000 and 6000 series. Documents prepared for the Metro Board safety committee suggest the other batches of cars that are set to be retired from the fleet in coming years would not get the upgrades.

A train that passed a red signal this summer nearly hit a Metro worker on the tracks, and only stopped several hundred feet later after the worker yelled.

Speeding is also a concern in other incidents, such as the case last Thursday when a train nearly ran over federal safety investigators.

The Federal Transit Administration has expressed that concern several times, along with detailed directives ordering Metro to address dangerous red signal violations.

Metro leaders believe tougher discipline might help change the culture at Metro. That includes no longer allowing suspended operators to take “paper suspensions,” where the time is served through vacation or other time off, and the recent firing of train operators who ran red signals.

“This approach is thought to be improving individual accountability,” board documents said.

However, recurring major issues remain, including communications and radio problems. The safety department is also still in the process of setting up a full-time investigative team.

Going back to 2011, there have been at least 88 red signal violations in the Metro system, with more on Mondays than any other day.

“Preventing red signal overruns continues to be a challenge. Historically, WMATA has offered retraining, stand-downs and [has] even installed new stickers on operator consoles and additional signs in areas to identify the location of signals, however the number of red signal overruns has not statistically decreased,” the documents said.

“When the incidents by hour are superimposed by the day of the week, Monday morning, Monday evening, and Friday at lunchtime are the leading time/day combinations,” the report concluded.

The violations most often happen above ground.

The most common locations for the red-signal violations are: Alexandria Rail Yard (7 since 2011), Reagan National Airport Station (6), Shady Grove Rail Yard (6), the Brentwood Major Repair Yard (6), Silver Spring Station (4), West Falls Church Rail Yard (4), New Carrollton Rail Yard (4), Grosvenor-Strathmore Station (3), Largo Town Center Station (3) and Vienna/Fairfax Station (2).

Given the high number of trains running red lights in yards, Metro leaders suggest increasing supervision there, in addition to a focus on communication and operator error.

At key locations where trains are in service, the recommendation is to move or replace signal lights to make them more visible at the locations where trains run red signals most often.

Metro plans to install LED bulbs at National Airport, Silver Spring, Vienna, Grosvenor, Largo and Farragut North by the end of this year.

Workers face separate safety problems, due to heavy work zone equipment running red signals, mainly during off hours. Those issues are not addressed in these recommendations, but Metro plans to investigate further.

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