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What D.C. Metro Inspectors Found During the System Shutdown

11:27 AM EDT on March 18, 2016

The D.C. Metro was shut down for 29 hours straight earlier this week while inspectors checked for defects in jumper cables, which transmit power between sections of the electrified third rail, along all the track in the system. To its credit, WMATA publicly documented the process.

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Exposed wiring found during an inspection of the D.C. Metro this week. Image: WMATA
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Stephen Repetski at Greater Greater Washington reports that inspectors found 26 jumper cables needing repair. Exposed wiring in the cables had started a fire on Monday and also caused the fire at L'Enfant Station last year that killed a person via smoke inhalation. The fatality led the feds to take over Metro safety, and at that time system-wide cable inspections were conducted too. Repetski writes:

WMATA replaced 125 cables, and inspections were set up for the cables to be inspected yearly.

[General Manager Paul] Wiedefeld didn't say if any of the 26 cables found Wednesday had been replaced last year, so we don't know if the cables are just one year old and failed recently, or if the issues were missed during routine inspections.

The problem with cable safety can be traced to cuts in staffing for track inspections, Repetski reports:

The Federal Transit Administration issued a scathing 116-page report last summer detailing numerous safety issues that their inspectors found when investigating how WMATA does business.

One of the issues listed in the report is one that claims that the number of people available to do track inspections was cut in half, meaning that each group of two track walkers meant to inspect the rail and nearby equipment includes only one person who is actually inspecting the tracks, fasteners, power equipment, and electrical systems. The other worker, who used to check the tracks as well, is now dedicated to looking out for trains, which could be coming at any time.

The FTA heard from track inspectors themselves who said that they "cannot adequately inspect both running rails and the third rail [where the cables are located]" in the time they have to get the inspections done. A side-effect of this could be that the track personnel skip or gloss over more subtle issues, letting them fester until turning into a full-blown issue.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland reports the city will issue anti-dooring decals to Uber and Lyft drivers as well as taxis. And The Urban Edge weighs in on Atlanta's efforts to become less suburban.

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