On Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at about 5:50 p.m. EDT, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Blue Line Train 416 was offloaded at Crystal City due to a failure of the public address and passenger emergency intercom systems. During the offload process, the train operator and a rail car maintenance employee were rushed by the radio controller in the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) to move the train. This resulted in preventing all passengers from exiting the train upon the initial offload attempt at Crystal City. All remaining passengers were offloaded at the following station, National Airport. Rail Transit OPS is concerned that the ROCC radio controller was prioritizing maintaining revenue service over the safety of removing passengers from a defective train.

WMATA Blue Line Train 416 was an eight car train with a lead car of 7096 which departed Largo Town Center at 4:53 p.m. en route to Franconia-Springfield. The train operator reported problems with the public address system, and a rail car maintenance employee boarded the train at Metro Center to attempt to troubleshoot the malfunction. As the train serviced the Pentagon station, the car maintenance employee reported to the ROCC controller that the train was experiencing a failure of the public address system, passenger emergency intercoms, and destination signs.

Blue Line trains change between two different ROCC territories and different sets of rail traffic controllers between Arlington Cemetery and Pentagon.

At 5:47 p.m., Train 416 was instructed by the ROCC radio controller to offload the train at Crystal City. Since the public address system was not functioning, the train operator and rail car maintenance employee were required to physically enter each of the eight rail cars to instruct passengers to exit the train. Two minutes later at 5:49 p.m., the ROCC radio controller instructed Train 416 to continue on in order to move the train into the center track at National Airport. This was over the protest of both the train operator and rail car maintenance employee, who stated that passengers were still exiting the train.

At 5:50 p.m., the ROCC controller again contacted Train 416 with “it’s rush hour sir” and instructed the operator of Train 416 to “close and continue” three times. The train operator stated that he couldn’t close the doors on people while they were still exiting the train. The ROCC controller then again instructed the train operator to close the doors. Passengers still aboard the train in multiple rail cars were therefore unable to exit the train at Crystal City. Immediately following the transmission, the ROCC controller contacted a rail supervisor to re-instruct the operator of 416 for not moving the train at Crystal City.

Train 416 arrived at National Airport and all remaining passengers exited the train, which was verified clear at 5:54 p.m.

At 6:07 p.m. Train 416 departed National Airport without passengers onboard, en route to Alexandria Yard by way of Franconia-Springfield.

Findings:

  • Train 416 operator was following correct procedures during this event.
  • Railcar maintenance employees were following correct procedures during this event.
  • ROCC OPS3 controllers were seemingly more concerned about maintaining schedule adherence than about the safety of passengers exiting a train with a non-functioning public address system.
  • Had the ROCC controllers allowed Train 416 to complete its offload at Crystal City, there would have been no confusion among the passengers who remained stuck aboard the train an extra stop.

 

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Rail Transit OPS Group is an independent, publicly-funded organization that monitors rail transit operations, performance, and safety procedures to proactively address potential issues. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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