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FTA uncovers safety lapses in WMATA's rail operations

Flaws in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) organizational and operational practices pose serious safety risks, according to the results of a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) inspection released yesterday.

In particular, the nearly month-long inspection found safety lapses in WMATA's Rail Operations Control Center, which schedules and conducts maintenance work, manages abnormal and emergency events, and ensures the safety of trains and personnel on the right-of-way.

"In key areas, WMATA is not effectively balancing safety-critical operations and maintenance activities with demand for passenger service," FTA officials said in a press release.

The FTA performed the safety management inspection as part of its new authority established by the federal surface transportation law known as MAP-21 in 2012, officials said. The inspection evaluated WMATA's operations and maintenance programs, safety management capabilities and organizational structures to assess compliance with its own procedures and rules, as well as existing federal regulations and FTA safety advisories.

Of the report's 54 safety findings, 44 pertain to WMATA's rail operations and 10 involve the agency's bus lines.

The FTA issued a safety directive spelling out required action for each safety finding, and asked WMATA to determine what changes to its fiscal-year 2016 budget will be necessary to implement all the corrective actions.

"WMATA must commit to more employee safety training, increased track time for maintenance work, and a greater effort at identifying and reducing safety risks to deliver the level of safety its passengers and employees deserve," said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan.

Also yesterday, the FTA directed State Safety Oversight Agencies with jurisdiction over rail systems to audit subway tunnel ventilation systems. The directive is in response to the National Transportation Safety Board's safety recommendation following WMATA's smoke-related incident Jan. 12.

The incident, which took place near L'Enfant Plaza, left one person dead and more than 80 others injured.

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More News from 6/18/2015