Power connections tied to Metro smoke incidents to remain on new Silver Line tracks

WASHINGTON — Power connections associated with a series of Metro smoke incidents — including the one that killed Carol Glover in 2015 — will likely remain part of the new Silver Line tracks being built from Reston to Loudoun County, a Metro safety leader said Thursday.

A new Metro analysis of its traction power system found that the connection, “while adequate and appropriate for the system, is potentially a point of failure that can be eliminated during new construction.”

Metro’s Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin was asked whether that meant that the connections should be eliminated on new construction for the stations that are part of the Silver Line project’s second phase.

“I think it’s probably too far along in the construction for that to happen,” Lavin said. “That would have to be somewhere down the line.”

The Silver Line’s second phase is the only completely new Metro construction that is underway. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is overseeing construction of the phase’s six stations and the miles of tracks from Reston to Dulles International Airport and Ashburn. The line’s design is now complete and construction is about 40 percent finished. Metro expects to accept the new tracks and begin service around 2020.

Metro still could consider eliminating the power connections — known to Metro insiders and safety investigators as orange boots because of how the hard casing meant to protect the cables looks —in some spots when the work fits into larger track work efforts, as suggested last month by power experts from other big transit agencies.

Lavin said all of the orange boots in Metro’s tunnels have been inspected. Across the system, 94.5 percent of the connections on tracks where trains carry passengers have been checked. That does not include rail yards.

Missing or faulty seals allowed dirt, water or debris to get into the boots and have contributed to a number of smoke incidents on the system.

In June, Metro said it had added proper sealing sleeves to all of the orange boots in its underground system — nearly a year and a half since the smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza that resulted in Glover’s death.

The charred boots were also visible near the McPherson Square electrical incident that led to a complete one-day shutdown of the Metro system in March, which General Manager Paul Wiedefeld likened to the deadly incident near L’Enfant Plaza.

Colleen Kelleher

Colleen Kelleher is an award-winning journalist who has been with WTOP since 1996. Kelleher joined WTOP as the afternoon radio writer and night and weekend editor and made the move to WTOP.com in 2001. Now she works early mornings as the site's Senior Digital Editor.

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