For immediate release: January 16, 2023

Metro appealing WMSC directives that sideline more than 50 certified rail operators, stall railcar return plan, and disrupt customer service

Metro has filed formal petitions for reconsideration of Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) directives that remove certified operators from service and stalls the previously agreed upon 7000-series Return to Service plan. 

Train service on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines will be reduced for customers, from every 15 minutes to every 25 minutes, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 17, through most of the week. The move is required to comply with directives received at 4:30 p.m., Friday evening of the holiday weekend from the WMSC. No Red and Green line service impacts are expected. 

“Safety is an absolute core value of Metro; however, we are exasperated with directives that are not based on risk analysis or facts,” said Chair Paul C. Smedberg. “The Board has tremendous confidence in the job our General Manager and his team of operations and safety professionals are doing, as evidenced by significant improvements we have seen in safe and reliable rail service.” 

Metro’s current rail operator training program requires 17 weeks of combined classroom and on-the-job training for student operators with an instructor in the cab (“stick time”), for at least 38 hours. While there is no industry standard, a sampling of our peer transit agencies suggests an average of 10 weeks combined classroom and on-the-job training for rail student operators, making Metro’s requirements about 60 percent longer than our peers. 

“This action presumes that operators who have been recently certified are unfit for service,” said Metro Chief of Safety and Readiness Theresa M. Impastato. “To be clear, every operator is required to have 38 hours of instructor-supervised time in the cab, and to pass an independent exam for certification. I want to assure our customers that every rail operator has met these requirements.” 

In another directive to Metro on Friday, WMSC halted the October Return to Service agreement, which permitted Metro to put more trains in service for customers. The directive denied Metro the ability to move to the next phase in the 7000-series railcar Return to Service plan (seven-day measurement) even though Metro satisfied all the conditions in the plan, and has no documented 7K wheel movement since May 2022. 

“While we fundamentally disagree with the WMSC’s directives, we will comply, as I will not put our customers in the middle of a bureaucratic process that fundamentally does not enhance their safety,” General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Randy Clarke said. “This arbitrary decision is especially frustrating considering that Metro is prepared to increase service on multiple lines over the next month, which is only possible with more 7K trains. Unfortunately, despite the incredible efforts of the Metro team, our customers should expect the current service levels for the foreseeable future.” 

Taking action on behalf of customers 

Metro has filed petitions for reconsideration, as provided under WMSC’s program standard. The petitions seek a stay, pending reconsideration, of the train operator and 7K directives that reduce or prevent the restoration of customer service. 

In its petitions, Metro states the agency has worked transparently, collaboratively, and side-by-side with the WMSC to track and share data on all 7000-series railcars, in exceedance of the Return to Service Plan. Upon request of the WMSC and outside of the Return to Service Plan, Metro has shared with the WMSC the inspection records of all 7000-series railcars on a daily basis since the Return to Service began. 

Further, the 7K petition documents that there has been no confirmed wheel movement during the Return to Service period since May 23, 2022, which supports and reinforces the plan to move from Step 2 to Step 3 – extending back-to-back interval inspections from four to seven days. 

“We look forward to the WMSC’s timely review of the petition but there is really a larger fundamental issue that needs resolution,” Smedberg said. “The Board and staff are fully supportive of an independent safety oversight body; however, the relationship between WMSC and Metro is structurally untenable and does not advance the region’s mission of providing safe and reliable rail service. We are respectfully requesting assistance from the jurisdictions to help mediate a process to move the relationship forward and to meet our jointly stated goal of having the safe, world-class transit system that our region deserves.” 

Click here for links to directives and petitions.