Early this month the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) had one of its trains derail underground near Smithsonian station, in the heart of downtown DC. Fortunately no passengers were aboard, but according to WMATA (interim) General Manager Jack Requa’s report on the derailment, that was just lucky. According to the report, “it is important to note that in this incident, critical information was lost due to human error and the absence of a process that allowed the error to go undetected.”
So it was lucky nobody got hurt, and lucky this hasn’t happened more often.
WMATA says that there was no process in place. What happened is that WMATA has a special train that runs along the tracks and measures the geometry, checking for problems. When going over the section of track that caused the derailment, a single human operator pencil whipped the warning, and there was no process to review, verify, or otherwise act on that warning.
It was a severe warning, too. According to the report it was a “Level Black” track problem, and “‘Level Black’ is assigned to any defect that needs to be addressed immediately because the track is at risk of failure if operations continue.” Operations continued for weeks after this problem was detected.
And worse, WMATA for months had a “Forward” PR campaign where they bragged about working on the rails… even as they were ignoring alerts and again, had no process to prevent this.
We need an elected board, and renewed oversight from top to bottom.
Photo by Ben Grantham