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After scathing report on Oct. 2021 train derailment, WMATA hopes to move forward

Oct. 12, 2021 photo of passengers waiting after a Metro train partially derailed in Arlington, causing the suspension of train service between the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom stations. (7News)
Oct. 12, 2021 photo of passengers waiting after a Metro train partially derailed in Arlington, causing the suspension of train service between the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom stations. (7News)
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The commission overseeing Metrorail on safety said Friday it will help make sure Metro carries out recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board, which released it final report about a 2021 derailment Thursday.

“We have the authority to require them to implement a safety recommendation or any other actions,” said Max Smith, spokesperson for the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.

The NTSB held a press conference and released a final report Thursday on an October 12, 2021, derailment on the Blue Line between Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery. No one was seriously hurt, but at the press conference NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said that was very fortunate.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | 187 evacuated after Metro train partially derails in Arlington, service suspended Oct. 13

“This incidentwas 100 percent preventable,” Homendy added. She took Metro to task for not having a good “safety culture,” something she says the NTSB has warned the transit agency about dating back to before it even opened in 1976.

“It’s the same story again and again since 1970,” Homendy said. “When they do identify hazards, they are not communicated within the organization. Mitigations are put in place, but then those mitigations are not monitored for safety or effectiveness.”

Smith says the safety commission is making sure safety changes are now monitored.

“We follow up behind them and make sure if they say they have done something, that we have the evidence that they’ve actually carried that out,” he said. “We review samples of data over time to make sure that things that jump out to us are being addressed, and that things that Metro has identified as already having jumped out, that Metro is following through to address those.”

Metro said in a statement Thursday it “fully supports the NTSB Derailment report.” The NTSB found that a set of wheels that had moved too far apart was responsible for the 2021 derailment, which began happening shortly after the 7000 series train car with the defective wheels had left Rosslyn station to head south.

In the wake of the derailment the NTSB revealed Metro had known about issues with its wheels for years without addressing it on a large scale. Last year Metro says it began a large project to replace and “repress” potentially defective wheels on 7000 series railcars.

RELATED | Metro replacing wheels on 7000 series railcars to improve safety, service

That three year project is expected to cost $55 million, and on Thursday, Metro and railcar manufacturer Kawasaki released press releases indicating the other should be responsible to pay for it.

Homendy also revealed somewhat of a bombshell Thursday about Metro rail operations’ response to the derailment:

“It took three rail transit controllers over three hours to realize that the train was in a tunnel and that the exhaust fan at Rosslyn station needed to be active due to smoke to protect passengers.”

Homendy said that’s especially concerning in light of the botched Metro response to a 2015 smoke incident in a tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza. One rider died from that incident. She said the issue has been addressed since the derailment, and offered some praise to Metro’s GM Randy Clarke for taking the derailment very seriously.

Clarke was not yet the general manager when the 2021 derailment happened.

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