Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In Metro’s case, this can mean delays, shut downs, injuries and death. Just last year, a smoke incident injured 91 passengers and killed one after a train stopped in the middle of a smoke-filled tunnel. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded its investigation on the incident and revealed its findings earlier this month.
The NTSB report said that a short circuit along the Washington Metrorail system caused the smoke incident on January 12th, and that the short circuit was a direct result of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) “failing to follow its own safety procedures.” A lack of adequate safety oversight from the Federal Transit Administration and the Tri-State Oversight Committee also contributed to the cause of the incident.
The report goes on to say the smoke incident reveals “a compromised safety system and a dysfunctional organizational culture.” Despite the past NTSB safety lessons gleaned from past accidents and the subsequent investigation reports, WMATA has failed to learn and follow through with proper safety procedures. The NTSB listed 31 new safety recommendations in the report. As to whether Metro follows through on those recommendations is another issue altogether.
Where’s the Fire?
The constant delays, broken air conditioning and sometimes whole days of being shut down due to safety (or lack thereof) has given Washington D.C.’s subway system a horrible reputation, and a new website is adding more fuel to that fire.
IsMetroOnFire is a website that allows commuters to check which lines are on fire before they plan their commute. If a line is not currently on fire when a commuter checks the site, the message says “Not Yet!” According to information compiled from this site and Metro, there have been 3.5 fires per week every day since April 23rd. Total, there have been 73 reported fire and smoke events in the first three months of this year.
Since the Federal Transit Administration arrived with the Transportation Secretary, Metro has been feeling the burn. Three board members have been replaced with experienced safety officials, and the Transportation Secretary has threatened to shut the system down for good if Metro doesn’t turn up the heat on employees who do not comply with safety procedures. Hopefully, these changes and increased safety inspections will really help make Metro safe and reliable.