Metro gives update on Red Line derailment

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Metro leadership provided the WMATA Board of Directors' Safety Committee with an update into the investigation of the train derailment that happened on the Red Line on January 15.

The derailment occurred as the eight-car train was heading from the Farragut North station to the Metro Center station. Three of the eight cars derailed, stranding 63 people on the train.

No injuries were reported.

Chief Safety Officer Patrick Lavin said they still believe the cause of the derailment to be a eight-foot cracked rail, but they are still investigating as to what caused the crack.

"What we believe to be a preexisting crack in the rail at some point, I don’t know when it developed. That will be part of the analysis," said Lavin. He added that oxidation was found at the base of the cracked rail and that weather may have been a factor.

He said that a walking inspection of that section of track five days before the derailment and ultrasonic testing done last summer did not detect any issues with the track.

"I don’t believe there’s a technology out there that would have identified that type of failure at this point," said Lavin.

Lavin also discussed why it took one hour 38 minutes to remove the passengers from the train.

He said the added delay was because first responders changed their removal plans. They initially were going to send a rescue train, but then decided on having passengers walk out to Metro Center. He said that added about 30 minutes.

Lavin said going forward, walking passengers off a derailed train should probably be the go-to option.

"I don’t want to make that an absolute because every situation drives a different response but from an institutional thinking standpoint that’s probably where we’re going to start going in these types of events," said Lavin.

As to the radio issues experienced by the train operator and Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) officer on the train, Lavin said the in-train radio worked better than the handheld radios carried by the two and that the MTPD officer had to walk 300 feet from the train in order to get a clear signal.

He added that their investigation revealed that testing of the radio system was not happening nearly as often as it should have. Tests were supposed to be happening at least once a week, but in some cases, were only taking place once a month.

Even then, Lavin said the tests were only done from Metro's Rail Operations Center to trains and not vice versa. He said Metro had been relying on operators to report any issues from their end.