Metro: Outages fueled evacuation mess

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Photo - (Examiner file photo)
(Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Last week's regionwide power outages fueled the confusion around a Metro train stoppage on the Green Line that prompted riders to walk on tracks to escape a hot, stalled train, according to Metro.

The transit agency briefed board members Thursday on the chaotic July 3 "self-evacuation" of riders, plus a heat kink-induced derailment from last week, a recent case of brake equipment falling off an Orange Line train and two cases of train operators running red signals -- all events that happened in the last month.

The agency also disclosed that a second heat kink, involving rail buckling due to hot weather, occurred Friday on the Green Line between the Branch Avenue and Naylor Road stops, though spokesman Dan Stessel said no trains were caught in that one.

Steps Metro is taking after safety failures
• The transit agency has added a policy to send out first responders if they cannot verify that a train has power after five minutes, instead of waiting uncertainly as it did during the July 3 Green Line stoppage.
• It plans to come up with a new policy on when to enact speed restrictions during hot weather to help reduce the danger of heat kinks causing derailments, such as Friday's Green Line incident when a train going 50 mph without any restrictions hit sun-buckled track.
• It will be checking all the brake equipment on all rail cars and overhauling processes for checking them as the agency has seven train maintenance shops, one of which didn't screw the bolts tight enough on a friction ring that broke from the Orange Line train.

In the wake of the incidents, Metro says it is taking multiple steps to prevent such problems from happening again. Board member Mortimer Downey, chairman of the board's safety committee, said he was heartened to hear the agency improving its processes in the wake of the safety problems. But he added that the July 3 communications meltdown "was a little scary."

The agency said the power outages stemming from the June 29 storm, known as a derecho, caused three sets of problems July 3. The outages caused Metro to rely on a remote terminal to monitor about three miles of rail along the Green Line near College Park. But that section of track lost power due to a Pepco outage, bringing a train to a stop at 5:49 p.m.

The agency could not see whether the third rail was electrified because it was using a backup monitoring system. And, the June 29 storm had knocked out electricity to one of the towers the agency relies on for its radio network, killing Metro's radio signals.

So the agency's operations center was without a way to see whether the train and track had power, while leaving the train operator without a radio. She had to walk to a emergency safety phone on the track, while some 320 riders were hot and didn't know what was wrong.

"People shouldn't be sitting out there in hot weather for that period of time," General Manager Richard Sarles said.

The train operator told Metro officials she did not tell riders to leave the train, but multiple riders have said she told them it was OK to evacuate and walk along the tracks, something Metro never recommends unless the train has an immediate danger such as a fire.

Metro tried to avoid a she-said-they-said, noting that the result wasn't what should happen when a train stops.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner