- The Washington Times - Monday, December 12, 2016

A subway malfunction forced commuters out of their cars and onto the tracks to walk to safety Monday morning, just days before the Metro Board is to vote on reducing service hours well beyond next year.

Two subway cars separated from an eight-car train on the Red Line near the Twinbrook station in Montgomery County just before 9 a.m. Monday. Fewer than 40 people were aboard the stranded cars, and no injuries were reported.

Metro said the train’s safety system worked, stopping the cars once the problem was identified. Most of the decoupled cars’ riders were offloaded onto the station platform, but two commuters in the lead car had to trek about 300 feet down the tracks to the platform. Both cars were removed from service.

Inconvenience has been a watchword during Metro’s yearlong SafeTrack maintenance effort, whose 25-day track shutdown on the Red Line between the Fort Totten and NoMa stations recently ended and affected nearly 200,000 trips per day.

Come Thursday, the Metro Board of Directors is to vote on keeping late-night service cuts in place until 2019 — an inconvenience D.C. officials have protested and threatened to veto. The board also will discuss a federal report that says track inspectors have feared retaliation from their supervisors if they reported problems within the 117-mile subway.

Current late-night service reductions (with closings at 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends) are set to end in June, but Metro officials have asked that the early closings continue through June 2019 to allow more maintenance and repairs on the long-neglected tracks to be done. In addition, the earliest trains on Sundays would start at 8 a.m.

Before SafeTrack, trains ran as late as 3 a.m. on weekends and midnight on weekdays.

D.C. officials, including those on the board, have pushed back, saying the late-night service cuts disproportionately hurt low-income and minority riders as well as the city’s bar, restaurant and hotel economy.

Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who is also a D.C. Council member, and financial consultant Corbett Price, the city’s other board representative, threatened to veto the proposal if the board votes to approve it this week.

“We believe we’ve compromised enormously. The board can do what it wants to do. I’ve made my decision clear on behalf of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Evans said this month. “We will exercise jurisdictional veto.”

A rarely used option in Metro’s 40-year history, a veto would force Metro to resume subway closings at midnight on weekdays and at 3 a.m. on weekends when SafeTrack ends June 30.

Under Metro bylaws, a proposal is vetoed when both representatives of a jurisdiction vote against it.

On Thursday, the Metro Board also will hold its first public discussion on a National Transportation Safety Board report about the slow-speed derailment of a Silver Line train in Northern Virginia on July 29.

Transcripts of interviews for the report released by NTSB this month showed that Metro inspectors failed to give an accurate assessment of the deterioration of subway tracks because they feared being fired by their supervisors. That led inspectors to fill out the same information on their inspection forms for months on end and fail to miss the crumbling railroad ties that caused the derailment.

One inspector was placed on administrative leave and given a drug and alcohol test after he placed a speed restriction on trains running between Braddock Road and Reagan National Airport due to problems with rail ties. The inspector was cleared of all charges after the Federal Transit Administration stepped in and confirmed the ties were defective.

“That causes track walkers to have to watch their backs versus just taking what actions need to be taken,” the inspector said in an NTSB interview.

The full report will be released to the public at Thursday’s board meeting.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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