Metro blocked safety commission from participating in interviews

Metro has kept the new Washington Metrorail Safety Commission from participating in key parts of safety investigations, the commission said, a practice that will change after a vote last week.

“We asked to participate in some interviews and didn’t have the opportunity to participate,” WMSC CEO David Mayer said.

The commission voted Thursday to change its standards to leave no doubt that its investigators have the right to take part in interviews and other investigative processes following safety violations or incidents.

The immediate issue came up within the last few weeks after some train operators drove past the end of station platforms. That can pose a safety risk because if the doors are opened, some doors could open inside the tunnel.

“A major part of an investigation is the interview process…especially in the immediate aftermath of a safety event,” Mayer said. “Hearing directly from a train operator who operated past a red signal or overran a station is critical in ensuring that these events don’t recur.”

Metro also must now allow commission staff to participate in other safety-related investigative or engineering work that follows a safety problem.

“We are looking to participate in that investigation as opposed to just hearing from them what they discovered from the investigation,” commission Chairman Christopher Hart said.

The safety commission is responsible for overseeing Metro investigations, but most formal investigations are done by internal Metro staff under the commission’s oversight.

“Regardless of who’s leading the investigation, it’s still being conducted pursuant to WMSC oversight, and thus it’s appropriate for our staff to participate in investigative activities,” Mayer said.

Commission staff negotiated the language of the change with Metro to ensure that it will be implemented going forward. The change includes guarantees that any information that is meant to be confidential will not be released to the public.

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