On Saturday, August 25, 2018 at about 1:28 PM EDT, a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Power Department (POWR) employee miscommunicated their location while accessing the traction power tiebreaker station on the Red Line that’s approximately 1,600 feet south of Rockville station. As a result, Train 110 (T-110), operating on the same track the employees were traveling on, came within approximately 500 feet of personnel. There were no injuries as the operator of T-110 quickly and efficiently stopped their train.
At 1:15 PM, a WMATA POWR employee requested track access to get to a power substation from an access gate in a parking lot using Foul Time, a protocol in which all train traffic on the requested track between two specified signals should stop. The POWR employee requested Foul Time for Track 2, which at this location is the outbound track, adjacent and tangent to the CSX right of way; the private parking lot is adjacent to Track 1 (see Figure 1). Foul Time was granted by the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) at 1:17 PM for Track 2; this request was lifted at 1:20 PM.
Figure 1: Google Maps overhead satellite image of incident area. Red pin indicates approximate location of POWR employees.
At 1:22 PM, the POWR employee requested Foul Time again for Track 2, and at 1:27 PM they were granted Foul Time by the ROCC, who requested Train 114 (T-114), which was in approach to Twinbrook on Track 2, to hold. The ROCC controller stated that T-114 would be facing a red signal, which the operator of T-114 acknowledged.
At 1:28:21 PM, while the employee was in the process of reading back to the ROCC the Foul Time clearance, a train horn was sounded, after which time the employee announced to the ROCC that there was a train coming.
At 1:28:31 PM, the operator of T-110, which had just departed Rockville and was traveling on Track 1, contacted the ROCC that there was personnel on the same track as their train, and that their train was currently stopped. The ROCC immediately asked the POWR employee which track the employee was on, to which the employee responded twice they were on Track 2. The operator of T-110 reported that the employees were on the same track as their train. At this time the POWR employee realized and acknowledged their mistake, and that they were on Track 1, not Track 2, and had been confused by the markers on the tracks.
Figure 2: Image from MetroHero, with the arrow indicating the approximate location of track personnel at the time T-110 stopped.
By 1:31 PM, the POWR employees were clear from the tracks and T-110 resumed normal movement.
Rail Transit OPS Group believes the probable cause for this incident is a lack of familiarization of the right of way by both POWR personnel and ROCC controllers; had the ROCC controller been familiar with the territory they were in charge of, the controller would’ve realized that Track 2 was next to CSX tracks and that there was no reason for the POWR employees to cross.
Rail Transit OPS Group recommends that WMATA makes the following changes to prevent recurrence:
- Increase ROCC controllers’ requirements to physically know the territory they are in charge of.
- Install track diagrams at each access gate to aid WMATA personnel as well as first responders in determining the track’s orientation prior to entering the track bed.
- Expand Foul Time restrictions to cover all tracks in the requested area, not just the affected track.
Rail Transit OPS Group provides independent evaluations of rail transit operations, performance, and safety processes as part of its dual mission: monitor and evaluate rail transit operators’ adherence to these processes, and provide additional information during service disruptions.
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