Metro gets rid of six on inspection team following the Silver Line derailment
WASHINGTON – Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Thursday he fired six track inspectors and supervisors after Metro Transit Police finished investigating a train derailment for criminal activity.
“I want the board, our employees and our customers to know that this review revealed a disturbing level of indifference, lack of accountability, and flagrant misconduct in a portion of Metro’s track department which is completely intolerable,” Wiedefeld said at the Board Safety Committee meeting Thursday.
Two cars of a Metrorail train moved off the rails July 29, injuring three people. Emergency personnel took one to the hospital for a minor head injury.
Metro board member Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said he agrees with the general manager’s decisions.
“I support it fully,” Goldman said. “We’ve known for a while that there were problems in the track inspection department that led to the East Falls Church derailment over the summer. And when facts became known, I think the general manager had no other choice but to take disciplinary actions against employees involved.”
Wiedefeld said Metro will discipline up to 28 people, nearly half of Metro’s track inspection department.
Police arrested no one in connection with the incident, but Metro briefed prosecutors on investigation findings, the general manager said. Police found that several employees in the track inspection department falsified track inspection records over the last three years.
Wiedefeld scolded supervisors of the track inspection department first for encouraging or not ending the misconduct.
“It is reprehensible that any supervisor or mid-level manager would tolerate or encourage this behavior, or seek to retaliate against those who objected,” he said.
In his statement to the Safety Committee, Wiedefeld reprimanded track inspectors as well for falsifying track inspection reports.
“It is also entirely unacceptable to me that any employee went along with this activity, rather than exercise a safety challenge, or any of the multiple avenues available to protect themselves, their co-workers, and the riding public.”
Goldman said Metro must hold employees accountable if it is to become safe.
“When bridling a safety culture, the first thing you have to do is create a culture of accountability, where people are responsible for their actions or their inactions.”
Wiedefeld also demoted three people in upper-level positions, including a superintendent in the department, in connection with the police investigation.
The Federal Transit Administration, acting as the state-level safety oversight agency for Metro, issued a mandatory safety directive that involved track inspections to Metro in August. A spokesperson said the FTA expects Metro to improve its own safety culture.
“The responsibility for improving the safe operation of the Metrorail system, including the performance of daily inspections, preventative maintenance and personnel decisions, sits squarely on WMATA,” the spokesperson said.
“The FTA’s Track Integrity Investigation Report and Safety Directive 16-4, issued in August 2016, direct WMATA to implement 12 corrective actions to address track safety concerns, including strengthening its track inspection program,” the spokesperson added.
Metro safety inspectors determined in August the train derailed because the space between the two metal rails was too wide, violating protocol.
The general manager said he initiated the criminal inquiry after Metro, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Transit Administration shared their findings from their safety investigations.
Wiedefeld said more firings will come soon and other employees, both supervisors and front-line inspectors, will face disciplinary action. He didn’t specify how employees might be disciplined.