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WMATA audit shows lack of proper track maintenance, commission says

The audit of WMATA's track maintenance and training practices demonstrated a lack of ensuring that the tracks are maintained in a state of good repair, Washington Metrorail Safety Commission officials said.
Photo – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority


The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, which oversees the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, this week published a report detailing an audit of the transit agency’s track maintenance and training practices.

The commission reported eight findings and two recommendations requiring WMATA to develop corrective actions to address those issues.

"The audit demonstrates that [WMATA] is not effectively ensuring that its tracks are maintained in a state of good repair as specified by its own policies," the report states.

The commission outlined the most pressing findings:

  • WMATA's organizational structure prevents it from effectively ensuring that its track is maintained in a state of good repair as specified by its policies, procedures and standards;
  • WMATA is not maintaining track infrastructure in rail yards in accordance with track and structure requirements and standards;
  • WMATA is not meeting its training requirements and there are inconsistencies in on-the-job training documentation for track and structure personnel;
  • WMATA is not ensuring that personnel wear the proper personal protective equipment as required; and
  • WMATA lacks the capability to complete required rail grinding activities across the system to ensure safe operations.

The commission also found that WMATA is no longer meeting requirements of a previous audit. A prior corrective action plan, issued in 2020, required the transit agency to address vegetation overgrowth on the tracks. That finding is being reissued as part of the new audit, which calls for scheduled weed spraying and vegetation cutting to prevent track structure damage.

The commission’s recommendations call for creating and implementing a planned, proactive, ongoing ballast renewal program that would improve the condition of track infrastructure, and ensuring system safety and quality of materials by conducting lifecycle monitoring of reserve rail components stored in maintenance yards.

WMATA is required to propose a corrective action plan for each finding and to respond to each recommendation no later than 30 days following the issuance of the report.

WMATA is planning to return to automatic train operation, for which it was built, though it hasn’t operated on that system since a Red Line train collision in 2009 killed eight passengers and a train operator, reported The Washington Post. The safety commission will continue to monitor those plans.

While the automatic system wasn’t found to have contributed to the collision, WMATA switched to manual control. The agency has worked on restoring and updating the infrastructure of the automatic system since 2018, the Post reported.

Meanwhile, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission submitted the 2022 Report on the Performance and Condition of WMATA to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, which called for the transit agency to “restore customer confidence,” NVTC officials said in a press release.

The report issued five strategy suggestions to WMATA: rebuild customer confidence; enforce fare payment uniformly across the system; implement a simple and convenient fare structure; increase nonfare revenue from real estate and advertising; and manage labor costs.

The report also detailed multiple recommendations to the NVTC regarding the financial status of WMATA. Those recommendations called for assuming operation of some WMATA services in northern Virginia and developing options for a new financial operating model for the transit agency.

"As federal COVID relief money runs out, [WMATA] faces an ongoing budget gap that must be resolved to ensure the long-term viability of the system," said NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice.