FTA Approves WMATA Plan to Correct Radio, Other Systems

The Federal Transit Administration today approved a corrective action plan drafted by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for improving the safety of its system, including by improving radio communications.

“WMATA must demonstrate a renewed commitment to set a higher standard of safety for its riders and employees,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “This plan is an opportunity for WMATA to make lasting changes and restore public confidence in its system.”

In June, FTA issued a safety directive to WMATA that detailed 91 actions the agency said the rail and bus system should take (TRDaily, June 17). In the directive, FTA cited, among other things, “serious lapses in the quality of the radio system and radio communications, which significantly affect the ability of the Metrorail system to manage abnormal and emergency events, and to ensure the safety of trains and personnel on the right-of-way.”

“While WMATA’s digital radio system is clearer than the analog version, there is still major distortion and feed-back in the field, and from the ROCC [Rail Operations Control Center], and a significant number of radio dead spots still exist,” FTA said. “Many WMATA employees throughout the agency ranked poor radio performance as their top safety issue. FTA’s team observed dropped words and communications as commonplace occurrences. ‘I can’t hear you, Central’ is a frequent radio transmission from the field.”

FTA said that “WMATA must expedite activities underway to modify the radio system design to add coverage to the areas that currently are not part of the system design, including tunnel ventilation and fan shafts, safe and refuge areas, and tunnel portals.”

WMATA came under fire in January after first responders experienced radio communications problems when responding to a rail incident that resulted in the death of a passenger and injuries to dozens of others. The National Transportation Safety Board is probing that incident, and radio communications is one of the issues it is looking at.

Radio communications remain “a top priority” for Metro, it said in its corrective action plan.

“The radio outage tool was a resource that was developed earlier this year to address system wide outages and trouble areas and was made available to both Rail Operation Control Center (ROCC) and the public. While this is not a permanent solution, it is a temporary fix that is intended to provide situational awareness until new radio equipment can be procured.”

“Radio coverage throughout the system will continue to be monitored,” the plan said. “The Maintenance Operation Center (MOC) is currently working to identify more efficient ways to survey radio outages and trouble spots during non-revenue hours. As vendor solutions and money becomes available, radio systems coverage will be addressed.”

“A comprehensive survey that gathers input from rail traffic controllers and train operators on problems with radio communications” is being conducted, Metro said.

In addition, Metro said it will complete by Dec. 31, 2016 “[a] complete listing of scheduled improvements for radio communications within the system.” An updated radio outage map will also be finished by then, Metro said.

However, in its corrective action plan, Metro said, “It is ill-advised to make modifications to the vent shafts as it will take away resources from the T-band relocation project and the maintenance of the existing system.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily