Agency to start safety tracking tool this month
Metro plans to launch a new tracking tool of safety problems in its emergency exit shafts later this month after The Washington Examiner exposed blocked, locked and dark exit shafts left unfixed after multiple inspections.
The transit agency also said Wednesday it has unlocked an exit door at the Congress Heights station, after The Examiner reported the door was locked from the station side that riders would use in an emergency for at least 15 months in 2009 and 2010.
The door had been locked because of security concerns until last week, when The Examiner asked questions about it, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. But once top brass was informed of it, he said, the agency had crews install a panic bar on the door so it can be opened from the station side during an emergency, while remaining locked from the outside.
The Examiner had detailed myriad problems found in inspections of Metro's emergency exits in 2009 and 2010. The transit agency's inspectors found repeated problems as simple as burned-out lights and as serious as blocked exit doors that didn't get fixed after multiple inspections. Shrubs grew over exits, equipment was stored in emergency pathways, and 4 inches of mud lined one stairwell.
The agency now plans to discuss the safety issues with its board of directors next week, including what was found in subsequent 2011 and 2012 inspections.
Some problems remain in the 122 emergency exit shafts now in the system, Stessel said, but they are in the "single digits" and the agency is working to resolve them. He added, though, "One is too many."
The oversight group charged with monitoring Metrorail safety warned Metro in 2007 and 2010 about such problems with the emergency exits not getting fixed after repeated inspections. The Tri-State Oversight Committee told Metro in 2010 to come up with a process to fix safety problems in a timely manner but Metro has yet to launch a planned online tracking tool.
Metro told The Examiner last week it would launch the system in the "next few months." But on Wednesday, Stessel said the agency has been planning to start it on June 23 so that if work orders for safety problems aren't fixed within 30 days, emails will be sent to managers.
"We did what we said we would do," Stessel said. "There was no timetable specified."
TOC Chairman Matt Bassett said documents Metro presented to it last summer led the committee to believe the system had started last June, prompting it to close out the open finding. "We thought it was already done," he said.
Since The Examiner raised the issue, TOC officials have discussed their concerns with Metro, Bassett said. He said the group plans to continue working with the transit agency over the next few weeks and likely will seek a new safety protocol for what happens when inspectors find safety problems.