Washington, D.C., workers can expect increased commute delays as more than 70 Metro rail operators are pulled from service to complete missing recertification that was due over a year ago.
Nearly half of Metro’s 500 rail operators are missing refresher training and testing, a review from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission found, prompting the transportation agency to remove those with the most out-of-date credentials to be recertified over the next few weeks. The staffing shortage will increase wait times on the Green and Yellow lines from 15 minutes to 20 minutes through the end of May.
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“The Board finds this unacceptable and extremely disappointing. We support Metro management’s decision to immediately remove from service operators who became out of compliance more than a year ago as a first step,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board Chairman Paul Smedberg said in a statement. “The Board directed Metro management to provide a full accounting of how and why this occurred and develop a plan to ensure it is remedied as fast as possible.”
Riders can also expect crowded cars because extra trains for possible breakdowns, rush-hour commutes, or special events that have helped ease the increase in ridership over the last few months may no longer be available, the company said. The process to recertify all operators missing their updated credentials may take up to three months.
The WMATA will also review the recertification status of its more than 2,500 bus operators to “ensure compliance” with Metro’s policies, the company said. It’s not yet clear whether bus commutes will also experience a delay in the coming weeks due to retraining.
Recertification allows train operators to be refreshed on the company’s policies and procedures, as well as evaluate drivers to ensure safety for customers. Operations management typically spearheads this process but ran into problems during the COVID-19 pandemic because it was no longer feasible to conduct training while maintaining social distancing.
As a result, WMATA issued waivers that allowed operators to postpone their training until further notice. Although these waivers were meant to stop being distributed by the end of 2020, there “were no checks and balances in place to ensure waivers did not extend beyond a reasonable time frame, typically 30 days,” Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly told the Washington Post.
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The lack of recertification is the latest commute frustration for Washingtonians, who have dealt with longer-than-normal wait times since mid-October when Metro removed over half its fleet due to safety concerns. The WMATA had pulled about 60% of its 7000 series, the latest and most advanced train model, after a Blue line derailment that revealed a defect with the fleet’s axles.
“The Board is deeply concerned about the impact this operator shortage may have on our customers and the region,” Smedberg said. “However, the Board made it clear safety is the top priority and while Metro has made strides in recent years, this issue demonstrates that more work must be done to ensure an organizational-wide safety culture.”