Metro train operators run five red signals

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Photo - A metro train arriving at Farragut North Metro station, Monday, October 10, 2012
A metro train arriving at Farragut North Metro station, Monday, October 10, 2012
Local,DC,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Metro and Traffic

Metro train operators ran red signals on the system's rails five times in the past three months, an unusual spate of the incidents, Metro officials said Thursday.

No crashes occurred and no one was hurt in the incidents, but the agency considers them serious safety violations.

"Anytime someone goes through a red signal, it's a serious issue," said Metro General Manager Richard Sarles.

Recent incidents of train operators running red signals
April 4- Prince George's Plaza
April 22- Van Ness-UDC
May 13- Friendship Heights
May 28 - Farragut West/McPherson Square
June 2 - Van Dorn Street

Metro officials said each of the incidents stemmed from human error. All of the train operators will be disciplined and retrained, the agency said.

"It violates a rule, and extreme circumstances could end up into a hazard that could create a close call," said James Benton, who heads the Tri-State Oversight Committee that monitors Metro's rail safety. "Red signal running is bad. Red means stop."

In none of the recent cases were any of the trains close to hitting another train, a piece of equipment or a person, Benton said.

Metro officials did not release detailed information about the five incidents on Thursday but said an incident that occurred between McPherson Square and Farragut West on May 28 was the closest call. "But it wasn't even close," Benton added.

However, the violations have been a recurring issue for the transit agency. Typically, Metro has about 13 cases a year, Benton said, so a spate of five is more than usual for a three-month period.

"It's not an isolated incident because of the number of red-signal violations," Benton said. "These are not isolated incidents. They are ongoing."

The transit agency has created a sticker to remind workers to stop, officials said Thursday.

Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, an agency board member, questioned why a sticker was needed, noting that a red signal alone should be sufficient to tell operators to stop the train.

The Tri-State Oversight Committee recommends that Metro do more than just try to enforce the rule or add a sticker, Benton said. He said Metro should engineer a solution to physically prevent operators from running through the red signals.

Metro will be starting a new "close call" reporting program on July 1 to help uncover near misses like those and other safety hazards in the making, the transit agency said Thursday. Workers can confidentially report a near miss issue directly to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which will follow up on the cases. The program is being tested first in Metro's rail and track infrastructure divisions as a pilot program.

The transit agency said it is the first in the country to adopt such a program, which has been used in other industries such as freight and commuter rail.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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