Internal Metro investigation finds disregard for training process
“This is the only issue that has really resonated in relation to drivers, our funding jurisdictions and everyone,” Board Chairman Paul C. Smedberg said during the meeting. “Actually, I found the report quite disturbing that there was such a glitch. … I hope the people involved in this understand how bad it was and how bad it looked.”
The report was released amid Metro’s efforts to recruit riders to replace fare revenue lost during a pandemic-era shift to remote working. The agency faces a projected budget deficit of more than $300 million next year that could force Metro to raise fares, seek subsidy increases or cut service — options regional leaders say are harder to sell amid recurring safety revelations.
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The recertification discovered in May expires for 257 railway operators – almost half of the employees in this role — resulted in transit officials pulling 72 of the most defaulting operators out of work for retraining, creating one laborer shortage that slowed down rail traffic. The matter tightened already reduced service due to a rolling stock shortage, now in its ninth month after nearly 60 per cent of the Metro’s rolling stock was grounded.
The agency’s 7000-series cars were towed after a failure was discovered in the wheels of several cars — an issue federal investigators say was known to some Metro employees.
The recertification Failures prompted DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), among other elected leaders, to question Metro’s management. General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader resigned the next day.
Transit officials first said the errors arose after Metro failed to track individual recertification waivers that supervisors began granting in 2020 because the agency was unable to conduct classroom training during the pandemic. They also said training was suspended because of the paused 7000 series, the model used during training. Train operators must go through the recertification process every two years, which includes updated safety practices and procedures.
On Thursday, Metro’s Chief Safety Officer Theresa M. Impastato presented various reasons for the failure following an internal investigation. While the waiver program was created because of the pandemic, she said a “blanket” waiver that covered multiple operators and went beyond what was allowed The 30-day extension was first issued in March 2020. Training was also suspended at the time, she said. According to Impastato, training resumed in September 2020 but was suspended again in October 2021 when senior operations officials came out another blanket waiver of recertification requirements.
The waiver was extended in December 2021 and is expected to run through June, Impastato said.
The use of blanket waivers was never discussed at Metro’s Pandemic Task Force meetings, according to a review of notes from the meetings, she said. Instead, Impastato said, Leader and Lisa Woodruff, then senior vice president of rail services, made the call without looking Input from other department heads as needed.
“The investigation found that the decision to grant waivers to rail operators as of March 2020 was made entirely within operations at the senior vice president of Rail and chief operating officer level,” said Impastato. “Subsequent decisions to continue to reissue the waivers were also made within the facility.”
Woodruff remains a senior official at Metro, but is no longer in the railway service role, said Impastato. Leader and Woodruff could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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officials decided to halt training again in October 2021 when railcars were removed as part of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into defective wheels, Impastato said.
“There was a perception that immediate support for the investigation was a priority, but as we moved forward with our various return-to-duty plans, the direction from the chief operating officer was to focus on return-to-duty planning and.” neglecting the delivery of additional train sets for training purposes,” she said.
The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission order that suspended the cars didn’t prohibit the 7000 series from being used for training, Impastato said. The commission was established by Congress in 2017 to oversee safety in the rail system.
“There was no need to suspend training due to external measures,” she said. “The decision appears to have been made with a view to prioritizing the operations team’s resources.”
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In multiple audits and investigations over several years, Metro has been repeatedly cited for prioritizing service over security policies that could cause or prolong delays. In 2020, the Safety Commission issued a scathing audit in which alleged supervisors at the Rail Operations Control Center ordered staff to ignore logs.
This auditing should also endure employees allegedly coached by Woodruff in the control center what to tell the auditors – a charge she denied and which Metro later called baseless after hiring a law firm to investigate the allegation. Woodruff was moved to another role at the end of 2020. it was her turned off in December 2020 but did not return to her former job, Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said Thursday.
Leader named her senior vice president of business process development, a role she has held since January 2021 with a salary of $276,000, Ly said.
Neither Metro’s Executive Safety Council nor the Rail Safety Standards Committee, nor any follow-up, were involved in the decision to end operator training in October 2021 the agency’s risk management process, Impastato said.
“What I’m hearing is that the decision was wrong, and the only reason no one pointed out that it was wrong at the time is because a limited number of people even knew the decision had been made,” Metro – Board member Tracy Hadden Loh said during the meeting.
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“We found no evidence that this decision was communicated outside of the operations team,” Impastato replied.
Loh told the other board members that the breakdown represents an area where the board could have a more practical role.
“Here, that becomes our job,” she said.
Impastato said some employees were so concerned about the training break that they began making plans to resume the recertification process so defaulting operators could catch up quickly, “but it wasn’t found to be a priority.”
She said Metro is working to add screening and inspections to its training and accreditation programs and to centralize oversight, which it has previously done fell to the individual departments and departments.
“Any deviations from existing training and certification plans or deviations from Metro standards must be presented to the Safety Standards Committee,” she said. “All discussions are reviewed, recorded and the [safety commission] sits on this committee as an observer, so they will know too.”