More ATC Safety Work Ahead for WMATA, Audit Finds

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) has released an audit report of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Automatic Train Control (ATC) and signaling system inspection, maintenance, engineering and training practices that identifies “several positive practices and a number of areas that require improvement.”

WMSC oversees and enforces safety practices on the Washington, D.C., rapid transit system. Following “in-depth interviews, document reviews and data reviews that began in late 2020” and ran through early 2021, the independent agency reported that WMATA “has not adequately trained employees on safety procedures, and is not following several safety-related processes.” The audit (download below) outlined 16 findings that require WMATA to develop corrective action plans (CAPs).

Here are the highlights:

  1. ATCM (Automatic Train Control Maintenance) employees have not been “adequately trained on safety procedures to ensure that all employees fully understand their roles with respect to safety.”
  2. WMATA “has continued efforts to return to Automatic Train Operation without following its safety certification procedures.”
  3. Not all WMATA inspections and maintenance are being conducted as “required by its ATC manuals, and ATC manuals have incorrect or incomplete information or outdated references.”
  4. WMATA “allows employees to use tools that have not gone through any safety review or approval process.” Among them: rail grinders and impact wrenches.
  5. There is not a “standardized determination of which preventative maintenance work must be prioritized as safety critical.”
  6. “There is no formal process being used or communicated for ATCM, the department that performs the work in the field, to initiate or request an engineering modification or manual change from ATCE [Automatic Train Control Engineering].”
  7. “Departments responsible for ATC do not have clear, documented, effective working relationships which contributes to communication and coordination challenges that limit safety improvements.”
  8. “WMATA does not have a standardized process to prioritize and advance ATC capital projects.”
  9. “Training and parts needed for maintenance appear to be an afterthought in WMATA procurements.”
  10. WMATA “does not have adequate replacement parts or materials, and has not planned for the obsolescence of critical equipment.”
  11. There are “no specific minimum training course requirements, documented OJT requirements or equipment certifications for ATCM employees, or requirements that individuals be trained on a system element prior to conducting maintenance work on it.”
  12. WMATA “is not effectively managing turnover, vacancies and experience levels of ATC personnel.”
  13. “Some test forms, work orders, or data sheets are not completed or are not completed with the required level of detail.”
  14. “[W]ritten procedures do not reflect changes that employees are being directed to implement.”
  15. “The preventative maintenance instruction for snow melters (switch heaters) does not comply with other Metrorail rules.”
  16. There are no “documented ATC software standards.”

WMSC also found positive practices related to WMATA’s ATC and signals programs while conducting the audit. Among these are “the use of document and approval tracking software for contractor submittals and books of plans, and the use and tracking of an electronic control log to be sure only one person is making changes at a time”; “initial improvements to ATCM training as required by past audits”; “ATCM’s attempt to triage training on new materials to provide it first to those most likely to work on the equipment in the field”; “new effort to ensure books of plans in train control rooms are more up-to-date now that inspections have identified needs for updates and page replacements”; and “cooperation and collaboration with the WMSC audit team on this safety improvement process.”

Next Steps

WMATA is required to propose CAPs for each finding no later than June 26 (45 days after the report’s May 12 issuance). CAPs must include “specific and achievable planned actions to remediate the deficiency, the person responsible for implementation, and the estimated date of completion,” according to WMSC, which must approve the proposals prior to implementation.

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