Watchdog experiencing ‘resistance to change’ from Metro management

Metrorail’s independent watchdog agency remains concerned Metro is not doing enough to resolve issues brought to the forefront by a December smoke incident that has been called eerily similar to the fatal Yellow Line smoke incident near the L’Enfant Plaza station in 2015.

“One of our major focuses remains safety concerns in the Rail Operations Control Center,” said Washington Metrorail Safety Commission CEO David Mayer, at a virtual meeting of the body Thursday. “We are also concerned about resistance to change from some members of management.”

The commission’s annual safety report cites “dangerous dysfunction” in the control center during the Dec. 10 smoke incident, along with “chaos and confusion with managers yelling and issuing conflicting instructions.”

Passengers were stuck on the Red Line train for nearly an hour as it crawled back toward the Friendship Heights station. The commission says that during the incident, power was restored to the third rail while first responders were still on the tracks.

“We are also discovering additional concerns about the ROCC as we continue our audit work,” Mayer said.

“Our months of investigative work in the ROCC is not yet over, and we expect to identify additional significant issues that must be addressed,” added the commission’s chief operating officer, Sharmila Samarasinghe.

Last month, the WMSC issued findings expressing concerns about the power restoration process and a lack of training on the use of emergency ventilation fans.

Metro has outlined initial steps it will be taking in response to the commission’s May findings, Samarasinghe said Thursday, “but we remain concerned that their proposed corrective action plans fall short of what is required to create substantive and lasting change.”

She pointed a finger at Metro management, as well. “Some Metrorail managers have suggested limiting management attendance at training that could address some of the dysfunction in the ROCC,” Samarasinghe said.

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