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Rail News: Safety

FTA demands WMATA address worker safety

Trains pass through the Farragut West Station on the Orange and Blue Lines.
Photo – WMATA/Larry Levine


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has ordered the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to take immediate actions to address track worker safety deficiencies.

Several track safety incidents have occurred at WMATA this year, despite the FTA's efforts to improve roadway worker protection (RWP) at WMATA, FTA Associate Administrator for Safety and Oversight Thomas Littleton said in an April 24 letter to WMATA officials.

In at least four instances, WMATA's own RWP procedures were violated when unauthorized workers were on the track and trains entered protected work zones at track speed, according to Littleton.

"Obviously, these events are of particular concern because they demonstrate significant failures of mechanisms designed to protect workers from unauthorized train movements into their established work zones when using foul time and inaccessible track protections," Littleton wrote.

As a result of those incidents and WMATA's delay in implementing previous FTA safety directives, Littleton demanded that WMATA submit work plans that involve field personnel using at least one protection method to hold trains outside of a work zone during "foul time" — that is, periods when tracks are taken out of service and workers may be present, according to the The Washington Post.

A potential protection method could include using a shunting device or deploying a flagger to keep trains outside of the work area.

Littleton also called on WMATA to reduce rail controller distractions, workload and potential for miscommunication when handling foul time requests. WMATA's work plans must include a "safety stand down" to brief rail control personnel, roadway workers and train operators of any changes to work-time protocols.

By Friday, WMATA must submit a work plan that sets forth actions WMATA has taken or will take to correct RWP procedures, as well as a plan to address staffing shortages in its rail and maintenance operation centers.

If WMATA fails to comply, the FTA can withhold some of WMATA's federal funding until the requirements are met, Littleton warned.

WMATA told news station WJLA that the agency shares the FTA's concerns and will provide a "full and timely response" to the letter.