As the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority battles its continuing safety problems, Metro Transit Police Wednesday investigated the death of a person on the tracks near Suitland Metro Station on the Green Line in Prince George’s County Wednesday.
Metro Transit Police said the unidentified man, who died between the Naylor Road and Suitland stations, may have intended to take his own life.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokesperson Dan Stessel said Metro likely will not release the man’s identity if the death is confirmed to be a suicide.
Stessel said the man, who he described as a “pedestrian,” should not have been on the tracks as there are no crosswalks on Metrorail.
The fatality marked the first death at a Metro station since January 2015, when passenger Carol Glover died after inhaling smoke from an arcing insulator and a broken fan near L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, D.C.
Last month, a vehicle driver died after rear-ending a Metro bus in the District.
On Wednesday, Metro’s management closed the Naylor Road, Suitland and Branch Avenue stations for at least five hours due to the police investigation.
Trains only travelled from Southern Avenue to Greenbelt starting as early as 6 a.m. Riders needed to take Shuttle buses to travel from Naylor Road to Southern Avenue Metro station and vice versa.
Metro released a list of the 20 speed restrictions on trains 5 p,m. Tuesday as safety precautions due to track problems. The most recently added Red Line speed restriction, and the slowest on the list, was near Rhode Island Avenue Station, added last week for a structure issue. Third party engineers detected identified the issue when they visually inspected the station because water damage caused concrete to fall from the ceiling twice in 24 hours.
The day before, a train with no passengers derailed as it entered an interchange on its way to Alexandria rail yard.
Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said the derailment resulted in minor damage to the railcars as well as to the tracks but no injuries were reported.
Meanwhile, the Metro Board of Directors is discussing whether to have a public hearing about how it will reduce service hours to allow more time for maintenance and inspections to make Metro more safe.
According to Metro Board Member Kathy Porter, who represents Montgomery County, Wiedefeld said he wanted track walkers to inspect the tracks without interruption, which would mean they would have to occur at night.
“The general manager’s sense is that they were not getting the high quality inspections that we need because the track inspectors had to get off the track and stop every few minutes” when the trains pass them, Porter said.
On July 29, a Silver Line train derailed near East Falls Church Station, resulting in one man being taken to the hospital for a minor head injury, along with two other minor injuries. Metro determined the incident was not due to the train operator.
Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin said the rails near the derailment were too far apart after the wooden rail ties became deficient and the rail spikes came loose, allowing two cars of the train to derail.
In September 2015, a train derailed near Smithsonian Station for a similar reason and situation: train cars derailed as the train was switching from one side of the tracks to the other and the rails were too far apart.
Both incidents, the last time the tracks were supposed to be inspected by an automatic machine, something went wrong.
Another safety hazard in Metro is train operators running red lights. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld fired two train operators in July for their histories of safety violations after red signal violations brought them under Metro scrutiny. He had said the train operators were risking the safety of riders and their fellow colleagues. No injuries were reported.
Lavin said the first of the two incidents occurred as a train was leaving Glenmont Station. He said the only reason the train operator stopped the train after running a signal was two employees who had been on the tracks, or right of way, screamed at him to stop.
The Metro may not be permanently closing at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays after all. However, Metro officials may instead delay the opening of Metro to 9 a.m. Saturdays and noon Sundays.
The Metro Board Customer Service, Operations and Security Committee voted Thursday to recommend the full board approve a public hearing for where to cut eight hours of service for maintenance. That brought Metro one step closer to approving an alternative to permanent midnight closings Monday through Saturday as Wiedefeld proposed in July.
Lynn Bowersox, assistant general manager of customer service, communications and marketing, introduced three new options for schedules, not including the option of continuing the SafeTrack service schedule of closing most days at midnight.
Consistent across the four options, riders can still enter the stations at 5 a.m. during the work week. Stations will close at 11:30 p.m. or midnight on those days.
- Scenario A: midnight closing Monday through Saturday; close at 10 p.m. Sundays.
- Scenario B: close at 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; midnight closing Friday and Saturday. 11:30 p.m. close Sundays
- Scenario C: Fridays and Saturdays stations close at 1 a.m. the next day. Not open until 8 a.m. Sundays. 11 p.m. close Sundays
- Scenario D: open three hours later Fridays and Saturdays. Not open until 9 a.m. Saturdays and Metro would eliminate morning hours on Sundays with a 12 p.m. opening time. 11 p.m. close Sundays.
Metro staff Thursday pointed to a Federal Transit Administration safety directive for Metro about the length of time workers had available to complete maintenance, repairs and inspections.
“In our Safety Directive 15-1… FTA determined that WMATA work crews do not have sufficient access to the rail right-of-way to perform critical inspection, testing and maintenance activities,” Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers said. “This is still the case.”
However, FTA spokesperson Steven Kulm clarified the safety directive, saying FTA is not mandating Metro officials spend more time on maintenance work, rather that Metro is prioritizing service over safety.
He said staff members need to demonstrate Metro is prioritizing safety over service and complete maintenance work more efficiently.
Metro staff said closing stations at midnight seemed to disproportionately harm lower-income workers, specifically those who work late evenings or work on Sundays.