Safety audit recommends 12 corrective actions for Metro bridge safety

Metro needs to take 12 steps to improve safety on its 148 “elevated structures,” including bridges that carry rail cars.

According to an audit from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, Metro is unable to pinpoint exactly how much weight its elevated structures can carry, needs to ensure that inspectors contracted to carry out work have the proper training and credentials, and should replace a type of bearing in 10 of its bridges.

Safety Commission spokesman Max Smith said, “Metro doesn’t have the basic load ratings for its elevated structures to confirm the number or types of trains that could safely” travel over those elevated segments.

Smith said, “The best practice is to have an actual number of what that bridge can carry,” especially in the event that an emergency or unforeseen problem would require trains to become backed up on one of the structures.

The audit also recommended replacing a rocker bearing found in 10 of the system’s bridges. The bearings are designed to give structures some flexibility, but according to the WMSC report, the bearings in the Metro system are no longer in use in most new American transit structures and risk “seismic failure” in the event of an earthquake, like the one that hit D.C. in 2011.

Smith quickly added, “That doesn’t mean [the bearing] will fail, and it doesn’t mean that there’s a danger” now, but WMSC is recommending that Metro consider plans to replace the rocker bearings in any future capital projects.

The audit, released on Monday, recommended changes in training of inspectors and an upgrade in the tools made available to them. The report recommended allowing supervisors to spend more time in the field with inspectors, as well as more oversight of contractors, to make sure that contracted inspectors have the necessary credentials, training and qualifications for the tasks they carry out.

Metro has taken some “positive steps toward improving a structural maintenance and inspection program” that previously faced “significant challenges” in the past decade, according to the audit.

Ian Jannetta, spokesperson for WMATA, said in a statement that Metro is reviewing the audit and remains “committed to continuous improvement ” of its inspection and maintenance programs.

Jannetta said that Metro has made “substantial progress” and requires inspection of bridges and “related structures at least every two years, more frequently in some instances, adding that Metro is investing in an “aggressive capital program to ensure the state of good repair of our elevated structures.”

Metro has 45 days to provide a detailed response to the recommendations.

You can read the full Washington Metrorail Safety Commission’s report here.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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