- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Metro's own investigation into an April 20 fire near the Foggy Bottom station turned up a variety of problems most of them strikingly similar to the problems identified after another series of subway train mishaps four years earlier.
Fred Goodine, the transit agency's chief safety officer, told members of the Metro Board safety committee Thursday that many of the problems with the transit agency's response to the April fire can be traced to inadequately trained employees, poor communication with passengers in the stations and trains, and the inability of personnel to follow set directives.
The April fire trapped 273 persons in a smoke-filled Blue-Orange Line tunnel for three hours. An operator had been told to drive the train, loaded with rush-hour passengers, into the tunnel by a supervisor at the station's Operation Control Center to investigate the smoke.
"Not only was Train 409 allowed to proceed, but no other trains were told to halt," Mr. Goodine said after his testimony. "It all boils down to human performance."
Mr. Goodine said the operator actually tried to back up out of the smoke and fire, but because a passenger had opened a door, the train would not move.
The findings of both Metro and a peer-review panel looking into the incident reflect the problems identified in a similar review conducted three years ago.
In 1997, the Federal Transit Administration issued a blistering review of Metro's safety policies and record, noting that the transit agency had a "lack of commitment and understanding of system safety."
The death of a Metro train operator in 1996 prompted that review of the transit agency's safety record. As part of that investigation, authorities determined the poor management of control-center employees and inadequate training led to a "corporate culture" that disregarded safety.
"They did do training after that [report]. But the question is, did they do it since?" Mr. Goodine said.
Carlton R. Sickles, a longtime board member and chairman of the five-member safety committee, said the 1997 FTA report was in the back of his mind as he listened Thursday to the review of Metro's latest safety lapses.
"I think that the best that can happen out of all of this is that there's a refocus on safety," he said.
Mr. Sickles was the only member of the committee who attended the hearing. David A. Catania, Decatur W. Trotter, Dana Kauffman and Calvin Nophlin were absent.
Retraining control-center employees should be Metro's top personnel priority, Mr. Sickles said, especially when one considers that similar recommendations made by the FTA were never acted upon.
"They are the center of all the operations," he said.
Mr. Sickles suggested to General Manager Richard A. White that the board be better informed of Metro's safety problems.
"It seems that we should have been advised of them sooner," Mr. Sickles said.
Mr. White said Metro hasn't trained its employees as thoroughly as it should, especially for the kinds of recent emergencies they've encountered.
"As [emergencies] get more serious, they don't have the base of experience," he said.
To get employees up to speed on emergency operations, Mr. White said station personnel will be given something of a "pop quiz," where they will be tested on how to handle different emergencies.
"A very important part of all of this is that we need to pay more attention to details," Mr. White said.
Metro also found in its investigation that it failed to communicate with passengers, the District of Columbia fire department and its own employees during the incident.
Board member and Fairfax County Board (Va.) of Supervisors Chairman Kate K. Hanley said she would like to see Metro follow the lead of airlines in preparing passengers for emergencies.
"There's nothing wrong with talking to our passengers about what to expect," said Mrs. Hanley. "It is very clear that we need to step up our communications to people."
Mr. Goodine also revealed yesterday that Metro knew as early as 1994 of the faulty design of a steel vent shaft door that flew off the wall of a tunnel between Prince George's Plaza (Md.) and College Park stations on June 20.
"It was not designed to withstand the pressure of wind coming from a train," Mr. Goodine said. "The system was already built and the doors were already in."
The force of trains rushing by caused the door and its frame to break away from the wall. It then landed on the tracks, where an oncoming train ran over it. The door frames had only been secured by caulk and drywall screws, he said.
Mr. Goodine said his crews have checked out the 536 doors that have the same design, and repaired or replaced 115 that are seriously damaged.
"The interim fix is to latch them into the wall," Mr. Goodine said.
Metro Board Chairman Gladys W. Mack and Mr. Sickles both said they would like to see the transit agency work on the fire department's 400 MHz radio to ensure it doesn't fail again, as it did during the April fire.
"Maybe they should just contract with us and we'll just fix it while we're down there," said Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann.
Because of the fire department's Federal Communications Commission radio licenses, it may not be possible to fix the system for them, Mr. White said, adding that Metro staff would look into it.

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