Metro’s independent investigation into the training issues that led to lapsed certification for over 250 rail operators uncovered waiver issues across departments brought about by transit agency leaders.
The WMATA probe findings were discussed by Theresa Impastato, Metro’s chief safety officer, during a Thursday meeting of the Safety and Operations Committee.
“The investigation determined that the decision to issue a waiver for rail operators was made entirely within operations at the level of the Senior Vice President of Rail and the Chief Operating Officer beginning in March 2020,” Impastato said. “Subsequent decisions to continue reissuing the waivers were also made in operations.”
Following reports of hundreds of Metro operators having lapsed recertifications, former General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced last May that he was retiring a month early, and Joe Leader, the chief operating officer, resigned effective immediately. Lisa Woodruff, who made the call about issuing the waivers, is no longer the senior vice president of Rail Service, but is still an official with the transit agency.
Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg said that he found the report “pretty disturbing that there was such a breakdown when it came to this.” He hoped people understood how bad it looked.
Smedberg asked if there was any pushback from the organization. Impastato said some were uncomfortable with the delays to recertification, raising concerns with operations leadership, “but it was not found to be a priority” and was part of an “organizational accident.”
“I was initially concerned about the lack of urgency by the leadership on this issue, given how this would be perceived,” Smedberg said. He also said he hoped for ongoing reports from Metro.
Tracy Hadden Loh, a Principal Director of the transit agency’s Board of Directors, asked Impastato about the 165 individuals out of certification in October of 2021 and a subsequent blanket waiver in December of 2021, calling the move “suspicious.” Impasto said Metro heads, in the wake of the 7000 series train issue, prioritized that over safety concerns and the operations team’s resources.
“From a factual basis, there was no prohibition at any time as a result of the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission’s order on using 7000 series equipment for training and certification services,” Impastato said. “So there was no need to suspend the training due to any external action.”
Committee members also outlined that the decision was unknown because the leadership at Metro did not use proper channels to communicate that a certification issue even existed in October 2021.
“We found no evidence of communication of that decision outside of the operations team,” Impastato said.
Loh added that process reforms seem necessary for independent reviews, checks and balances that would require reporting of certification issues.
“We need to understand the org chart implications of the fact that that was able to happen,” Loh said. “We need to make changes other than just who is the COO in order to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”
The probe also found that the internal safety reviews of the agency’s recertification program were last conducted in 2018 by Metro’s Quality Team — no recertification issues were noted at the time.
Calling the oversight of training and certification by Metro “immature” and noting that the agency is “relatively green in its journey,” Impastato said the probe found a decentralized process and pressure from the removal of 7000 series rail cars, pandemic employee loss and changes to leadership.
Metro announced that the safety committee is reviewing and recording training and certification plans, monitoring the recovery plan, proactively conducting certifications and enhancing its technology to automate reporting on certifications.