According to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC), Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) employees repeatedly ignore and circumvent safety procedures that have been put in place to protect employees working around the rail system’s electrical grid. . The safety commission says rule violations occur even though the new procedures were implemented specifically because employees were ignoring and circumventing the less stringent old ones.
The WMSC order issued on May 17, 2022 underscores the commission’s frustration with the ROCC, which governs the movement of trains along the system’s tracks and is responsible for protecting employees who work on the tracks themselves. . The order references several earlier orders, also issued by the WMSC due to security breaches that have repeatedly occurred in the ROCC, but notes that the controllers are still restoring third rail power to tracks without follow the protocol.
Metro said it will implement new security standards at ROCC
Metro has had repeated issues with employees not following procedures, and management personnel asking employees to circumvent protocol, at ROCC facilities. Past WMSC audits and orders note that management, including former senior vice president Lisa Woodruff and former ROCC director Deltrin Harris, have themselves violated or ordered controllers to violate the procedures of security. Woodruff was then reassigned to a position within the COO’s office. Harris left Metro to become general manager of railroad operations and facilities at the Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS).
Metro chief executive Paul Wiedefeld has pledged to overhaul the ROCC in 2020 and appointed Jayme Johnson (now vice president and deputy chief security officer) to lead the necessary organizational change. One of the many changes included in the redesign was to how controllers restore power to lanes and ensure everything is done correctly.
Improper restoration of track power has the “potential to cause serious injury or death,” according to the WMSC.
“Metrorail’s culture of non-compliance”
As an added safety measure to meet WMSC requirements, Metro has implemented a “power office” with employees responsible solely for the safe restoration of track power. Workers in the office are expected to independently confirm with ROCC rail controllers in charge of specific areas of the system that it is safe to restore power, as well as with actual workers on the track. Once the power desk controller has performed this independent verification, the power desk assistant superintendent is expected to ensure that the power desk controller has done what he was supposed to do, and then allow him restore power after verification.
But the WMSC says that’s not happening. “The investigation…provides further evidence that elements of Metrorail have a culture that accepts non-compliance with written operating rules, instructions and manuals,” their order states.
While investigating several security incidents since the new power procedures were implemented, the commission said “Power Desk personnel, including supervision and management, did not follow the procedures for safety features that management has specifically designed to ensure safety”. The WMSC says it provided feedback to Metro to reinforce the new protocols put in place and that Metrorail gave them “repeated assurances” that the new procedures would provide “redundant protections against improper power restoration.”
Among the safety lapses, the WMSC says Power Desk controllers and management routinely use personal notes, rather than Metro’s Digital Track Rights Management (GOTRS) application, in part because “staff think that this circumvention of security requirements results in a faster process” – which the WMSC notes is “expressly contrary” to the purpose of the rules.
One of the commission’s conclusions indicates that the procedures put in place by Metro are not infallible and can be circumvented. Nothing prevents power desk controllers from restoring power before completing the checklist in GOTRS, for example, that the WMSC found during its investigations. Power office staff regularly restored power to work areas before completing the necessary steps in GOTRS – the reverse order in which it is supposed to be done.
In one incident, a power desk controller restored power to a section of track at 4:20 a.m., but he and the railroad controller did not verify that employees were off the roadway until 4 a.m. 37, 17 minutes later. The WMSC reported no injuries.
WMSC again orders Metro to tighten its ROCC security protocols
WMSC’s latest order from Metro takes further steps requiring the agency to put in place resilient safeguards around power restoration.
To address what the WMSC considers unsafe overtime use and associated fatigue, Metro cannot have more than 30 overnight work locations at any one time, or 10 for each of three electrical offices. The safety board determined that due to understaffing and too many work areas per power desk controller, “many shifts are covered by overtime” and, in some cases make up the vast majority of power desk shifts.
The work limitation comes in response to controllers who said they were “pissed off” by the “high and difficult workload”. By mid-April, power controllers were attempting to manage an average of 17 locations per night.
On the technical side, the commission is now asking Metro to propose technical solutions to ensure that power is not restored before it is safe. They want Metro to upgrade its train management system (AIM) so that controllers and management cannot simply circumvent safety protocols, but are forced to comply with them.
Last but not least, the WMSC has sent Metro’s Safety Certification Review Board, which approved the initial electrical console implementation plan, to the drawing board to come up with a new certification audit report. (SSCVR) justifying that the way the electrical panel is installed is safe. The review board previously voted in mid-April 2022 and approved the electrical office certification.
This time around, the WMSC outlined the specific actions it wants to see in the report, including an “updated operational risk analysis” that would be “based on the actual risks demonstrated during the implementation of the Power Desk”. The previous attempt that Metro said would address WMSC’s concerns did not, according to WMSC, and Metro’s statements that they did are “not accurate.”
Metro now has 30 days to respond to the WMSC order and respond with plans that sufficiently satisfy the safety commission.