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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

FTA orders WMATA to conduct immediate track repairs at three sites


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) yesterday directed the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to make "urgent repairs" on both tracks along three segments of the Metrorail system before the agency begins work on its new SafeTrack Plan.

In a letter, Acting FTA Administrator Carolyn Flowers told WMATA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul Wiedefeld to focus on immediate maintenance activities on the following track segments: Medical Center to Van Ness on the Red Line; Potomac Avenue to the D&G junction on the Blue/Orange/Silver Line; and Ballston-MU to East Falls Church on the Orange/Silver Line.

Flowers' specific actions call for cleaning insulators and removing debris from Metrorail tunnels.

Recent investigations and inspections by FTA safety oversight officials identified track locations where urgent repairs are necessary to reduce the risk of smoke and fire events and to ensure the safety of riders and employees, the letter stated.

Between April 23 and May 10 — and separate from FTA's regular daily inspections of Metrorail — FTA teams investigated 15 safety events, including nine involving smoke and/or fire, according to Flowers' letter.

One of those incidents was a fire and smoke incident that occurred May 5. On May 7, the FTA ordered WMATA to take immediate action to address emergency preparedness after the agency failed to notify the administration after the incident as required by protocol.

After that incident, the FTA threatened to withhold federal funding for WMATA and shut down service if the agency fails to take immediate steps to address its safety deficiencies.

Flowers' letter follows the FTA's May 7 safety directives, as well as an "immediate action" letter the administration sent to WMATA on April 18.

And earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters he "seriously considered" shutting down Metrorail last weekend following the May 5 smoke incident, and won't hesitate to do so if WMATA doesn't move fast enough to correct the safety problems as directed by the federal government.

Last week, Wiedefeld announced WMATA's new SafeTrack plan aimed at improving the agency's rail safety and restoring service reliability. The plan includes 15 "safety surges" over the next year that will involve long-duration track outages. During the shutdowns, crews will either work around the clock on single tracks or on entire line segments, WMATA officials said.