Federal Officials Find Major Safety Violations on DC Metro Rail System

Tourism season approaches in DC, but will Metrorail run at full capacity?

April 19, 2016, 3:30 PM
PHOTO: Washington DC metro train in an underground station is pictured in this undated photo.
Washington DC metro train in an underground station is pictured in this undated photo.
Gregory Adams/Getty Images

— -- As tourists flock to the nation’s capital for the spring and summer, the Washington D.C. Metro system may not be ready to handle the possibilities. Federal inspections have revealed systematic failures in providing safe conditions in the event of an emergency evacuation, including missing signage and blocked escape routes.

A letter from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, obtained by ABC News, pointed to 107 safety inspections over the course of the year, revealing procedural violations surrounding the safety of employees working on the tracks.

“Although we are still compiling our final report from these inspections, the seriousness of these findings and a clear concern for public safety compel me to direct WMATA to take immediate action,” said Thomas Littleton, an associate administrator for safety at the FTA.

The issues were found during a “safety blitz” the agency conducted, which began earlier this year. The letter said the agency, "identified 229 defects requiring 66 remedial actions."

The FTA is calling for the Metro system to take action quickly.

"We are requiring WMATA to take immediate action to address critical concerns identified during our recent track integrity safety blitz," the FTA told ABC News. They added that the, "safety oversight team is on the job, and will continue to oversee the transit agency’s safety activities until the local jurisdictions take responsibility."

The findings of their inspections include problems with emergency routes like wall-mounted lights that don't function properly, debris blocking those routes, non-functional fire extinguishers, unclear exit and safety signs and missing third rail covers. Several non-functioning emergency power shut-off switches and telephones were also found.

Train operation also had some issues, including conductors caught speeding and workers in front of the trains with 5 seconds or less to move.

Metro responded to the findings and said they have concrete plans to address the issues laid out by the FTA. "Metro was briefed by FTA and all safety critical items are receiving priority attention," Metro wrote in a statement to ABC News. "The plan will lay out the work being performed, set clear timetables for completion and provide customers with the advance information they need to prepare for impacts to service."

A History of Problems at DC Metro

The rail system responsible for moving millions of commuters and tourists through the nation’s capital every year was placed under federal oversight in October of 2015 following a series of problems jeopardizing rider safety, including the death of one person on a smoke-engulfed train outside of the L’Enfant Plaza station.

The incident sparked a federal investigation and prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to recommend the federal oversight of the Metro.

Metro shut down for more than a full day in March of 2016 for safety checks of electric cables.

"While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life safety issue here, and that is why we must take this action immediately," Wiedefeld said at the announcement last month.

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