Nearly half of Metro’s 500 operators have lapsed recertification, WMATA said in a statement Sunday. As a result, train services will be delayed beginning Monday.
Green and Yellow line services will be running six-car trains every 20 minutes instead of every 15 minutes.
WMATA said that, before May 2021, 72 operators did not complete the appropriate classroom instruction and supervised testing required to operate trains safely. Those 72 operators will be removed from service.
Max Smith, a spokesman for the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, shared that an audit of Metrorail identified that the transportation service didn’t meet operations standards and “stopped training for recertification entirely.”
“They were falling even further and further behind rather than getting closer and closer to catching up, which would have been the hope,” Smith told WTOP.
He says that Metro decided that cutting back the number of operators would be best for the safety of passengers and staff. Without it, he says, they could be without “a level of safety assurance.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic was partly responsible for some pauses in training — some operators were behind for more than a year — Smith says that the pandemic should not be a reason that Metro is behind on these certifications two years into the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a challenge that Metro has had pre-pandemic, and it’s something that really needs to be addressed now,” he said.
The discussion followed the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission’s announced support of Metro’s decision to “provide for the safety of Metrorail riders.”
“The WMSC communicated the seriousness of this safety issue to Metrorail and gathered additional information over the last few weeks, so we are pleased that the Chief Safety Officer and Metro Board are now aggressively addressing the matter,”
Metro’s plan was described by Smith as a “first step” to addressing the issue with a revised action plan to catch operators up on their certifications and avoid lapses in the future. In addition, he says Metro’s responsibility will be to develop and implement these plans.
Extra trains for special events or crowding will likely be unavailable. Those shortages will continue to the end of May, Metro said.
The transit service said that re-certifying more than 250 rail operators will take approximately two to three months.
In a statement, ATU Local 689, the union that represents Metro workers, said it didn’t have a comment.
WTOP’s Juan Herrera and Kyle Cooper contributed to this report.