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Probe faults Metro for ‘anemic’ safety ethos
National board finds widespread problems
Question of the Day
In that incident, the system indicated that the track ahead was clear, but the operator could see it was not. The operator braked just feet from the train in front of her.
If the changes that oversight agencies recommended after that incident had been implemented throughout the Metro system, members of the board said, the fatal 2009 crash could have been prevented.
The Metro system was sending out a different message Tuesday — one of eagerness to accept NTSB’s recommendations. Its home page flashed a screen shot Tuesday afternoon of one of its trains with the words “Metro adheres to NTSB suggestions” and “Moving forward on safety” across it.
“Today at Metro there is no higher value or priority than safety,” Richard Sarles, Metro interim general manager, said in a press release on Metro’s site. “We have taken dozens of actions just in the last year, to improve safety for our customers and employees. And I pledged that we will carefully consider the comments, findings and recommendations that come forth from the National Transportation Safety Board today, and continue to work cooperatively with the NTSB, just as we have in advance of today’s meeting.”
No Metro representative was available to speak with The Washington Times on Tuesday.
Members severely criticized Metro for putting a higher priority on moving trains than on safety, something they found pressured even the team and managers responsible for ensuring safety to ignore their responsibilities.
“Safety culture starts at the top and permeates throughout,” said Robert Sumwalt, an NTSB member who criticized Metro officials for saying safety starts at the bottom of the organizational flow chart, not the top.
NTSB members also cited a fundamental flaw in the agency’s structure, saying that oversight agencies such as the Federal Transit Authority and the Tri-State Oversight Committee — consisting of officials from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia — had no power to enforce safety regulations on WMATA.
The NTSB called on Congress to enact legislation creating clear lines of authority and oversight that would expedite safety-related changes — a call that the oversight committee’s top official quickly endorsed.
“The observations that the NTSB made about the challenges [the oversight committee] faces with regard to regulatory authority are spot-on,” committee Chairman Matt Bassett told The Times.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, called the report “both chilling and very sad” and told reporters that WMATA should implement NTSB recommendations and that Congress should order new safety standards from the federal Transportation Department and let that agency enforce them.
Board members also harped on WMATA’s board of directors for failing to give oversight on safety, which is not only within their ability, but is their responsibility, according to the members’ findings.
Unlike other transit agencies, WMATA doesn’t have the word “safety” in its mission statement, not even in the one adopted by the board just months after the June 2009 crash. Rather, WMATA’s statement reads, “Metro provides the nation’s best transit service to our customers and improves the quality of life in the Washington metropolitan area.”
“I’m afraid if any board of directors is waiting for information to be brought to them, they may never get the information that they need,” said Steve Klejst, one of the NTSB investigators assigned to the accident.
Mark Littman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said safety has to be the No. 1 priority in any operation like the Metro system.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Kathryn Watson is an intern on the Continuous News Desk. Katie is a senior journalism major at Biola University just outside of Los Angeles, where she serves as the editor-in-chief of her school’s student newspaper, The Chimes.
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