Internal Metro investigation reveals disregard for training process

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A hiatus in Metro training and recertification involving more than 250 rail operators that led to the resignation of senior executives occurred, in part, because the agency’s former chief operating officer gave prioritizing service levels over security requirements, according to an internal Metro investigation.

The findings, released Thursday at a committee meeting of Metro’s board of directors, troubled members who have criticized concerns about lax management in recent months. It comes after Metro executives spent seven years trying to shift workplace culture towards prioritizing safety above all else.

“That’s the one issue that really resonated across the board in terms of riders, our funding jurisdictions, everyone,” Board Chairman Paul C. Smedberg said at the meeting. “I actually found the report quite disturbing that there was such a breakdown about it. … I hope the people who were part of it understand how bad it really was and how bad it was. looked bad.

The report was released amid Metro’s struggles to recruit riders, an effort to replace fare revenue lost during a pandemic-era shift to working from home. The agency faces a projected budget shortfall of more than $300 million next year that could force Metro to raise fares, seek subsidy increases or cut service — options that regional leaders say are a harder sell in the face of recurring safety revelations.

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The discovery in May of recertification expiries among 257 rail operators – almost half of the employees in this role led transit officials to take 72 of the most delinquent operators off the job to retrain them, creating a worker shortage that slowed down rail service. The problem exacerbated the already reduced service resulting from a car shortage, now in its ninth month, after the suspension of nearly 60% of Metro cars.

The agency’s 7000-series cars were pulled after a fault was discovered in the wheels of several cars — a problem that federal investigators said was known to some Metro employees.

Recertification the lapses prompted DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), among other elected leaders, to question Metro’s direction. General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader resigned the following day.

Transit officials initially said the lapses occurred after Metro failed to follow up on individual recertification waivers, which supervisors began granting in 2020 because the agency couldn’t conduct training in class during the pandemic. They also said training was suspended due to the sidelined 7000 series, the model used during training. Train operators are required to go through the recertification process, which includes updated safety practices and procedures, every two years.

On Thursday, Metro’s chief security officer, Theresa M. Impastato, presented various reasons for the failure after an internal investigation. While the waiver program was created due to the pandemic, she said a “blanket” waiver covered multiple operators and went beyond the allowed limit. A 30-day extension was first issued in March 2020. Training was also suspended at that time, she said. Impastato said training resumed in September 2020 but was suspended again in October 2021, when senior operations officials released another blanket exemption from recertification requirements.

The waiver was extended in December 2021 and is expected to last until June, Impastato said.

The use of blanket waivers was never discussed at Metro’s pandemic task force meetings, according to a review of meeting notes, she said. Instead, Impastato said, Leader and Lisa Woodruff, then senior vice president of railroad services, made the call without looking. comments from other managers, as required.

“The investigation determined that the decision to grant rail operators a waiver was made entirely within operations at the Senior Vice President of Rail and Chief Operating Officer level as of March 2020,” it said. declared Impastato. “Subsequent decisions to continue to reissue the waivers were also made within the operations.”

Woodruff remains a senior official at Metro but is no longer in the role of rail services, Impastato said. Leader and Woodruff could not be reached. for comment Thursday.

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Operations managers have decided to halt training again in October 2021, when cars were pulled as part of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into faulty wheels, Impastato said.

“There was a perception that the priority was to support the investigation immediately, but as we moved forward with our various recommissioning plans, the direction from the COO was to focus on the return to service. plans and to deprioritize the provision of additional oars for training purposes,” she said.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission’s order that suspended the cars did not prohibit the use of the 7000 series for training, Impastato said. The commission was created by Congress in 2017 to oversee safety in the rail system.

“There was no need to suspend training due to outside action,” she said. “The decision appears to have been made in terms of 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 safety guidelines that could create or lengthen delays. In 2020, the safety board released a scathing audit that alleged supervisors at the rail operations control center ordered employees to ignore protocols.

This audit also alleged that Woodruff had coached control center employees on what to tell the listeners — a charge she denied and which Metro later said was unfounded after hiring a law firm to investigate the complaint. Woodruff was moved on to another role in late 2020. She was erased in December 2020, but has not returned to his old job, Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said Thursday.

Leader named her senior vice president of business process development, a role she has remained in since January 2021 with a salary of $276,000, Ly said.

Decision to stop operator training in October 2021 did not involve Metro’s Executive Safety Council, Rail Safety Standards Committee or follow-up agency’s risk management process, Impastato said.

“What I hear 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 that the decision had been made,” said Metro board member Tracy Hadden Loh. said at the meeting.

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“We found no evidence of communication of this decision outside of the operations team,” Impastato replied.

Loh told other board members that dispatch presented an area where the board needed to play a more hands-on role.

“That’s where it becomes our job,” she said.

Impastato said some employees were so concerned about the training hiatus that they began creating plans to postpone the recertification process so delinquent operators could catch up quickly, “but it didn’t turn out to be a priority. “.

She said Metro is working to add reviews and audits to its training and certification programs and centralize oversight, which previously rests with the various departments and divisions.

“Any deviation from existing training and certification plans or any deviation from Metro standards must be referred to the safety standards committee,” she said. “All chats will be checked, recorded and the [safety commission] sits as an observer on this committee, so they will know that as well.

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