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17 Responses to Discussion

  1. Bobby Baum says:

    Metro safety
    While concerns about safety at Metro are obviously justified, many riders probably aren’t doing much better.
    Metro users:
    Have you read the emergency exit instructions in railcars & busses?
    Do you know how to contact the train operator in an emergency? (There’s an intercom at each end of the car.)
    Do you know how to identify the car you’re in? (The car number is on the emergency door at each end of the car.)
    Do you know what part of a train you should never touch? (The paddles that draw power from the third rail – note that they are on BOTH sides of the train.)
    Do you know what to do if you fall on the tracks and a train is coming? (Roll under the platform – there’s a space there for that purpose.)
    Do you know where the escalator emergency stop buttons are? (Near the start of the right handrail – exact location varies.)
    Do you always carry a flashlight (preferably LED – LEDs last nearly forever and use less power)?
    A compass? (Caution: almost all key rings and some keys are magnetic and can interfere with a compass; check before putting on a key ring. The high currents drawn by operating railcars can also cause a compass to do some really weird things (try it!) but this wouldn’t be a problem if an emergency cut off power.)
    A note listing phone numbers for an emergency contact and your doctor (drivers, your mechanic or a tow service)?
    Do you note the location of emergency exits? (Many people have died because they didn’t know where exits were when a fire broke out.)
    Do you often think about what you would do if an emergency occurred?

    What have I left out?

  2. One Other Worker on Record. says:

    What a Joke. Let me paraphrase what I just read from this site: following my 27 years of getting paid, I did nothing “to make things safer”, and since they are no longer my employer, I will try from afar, as I fear using my real name, to make the transit system a better place. Why didn’t you make it safer while you were employed by Metro? Why didn’t you make it your first priority then? Typical that you offer knowledge of problems and fail in the solutions department; a reflection on how little you learned on the job. What a waste, because you had the talent, and wasted it. And still do, and continue to waste it. Is this the best you can do in retirement? Pathetic.

    • [When I received this comment earlier today I considered ignoring it but I want to keep the blog comment and discussion sections as open as possible so I decided to approve it and reply]:

      After reading this comment I realized that the author is right — I am just a pathetic loser. A waste of space. I was going to jump in front of a train and end my pitiful existence but then I thought, no, I owe it to my loyal readers and the riding public to continue writing…

      My first thought is that someone has some anger issues. Since the author chose to remain anonymous, I have no way of knowing whether s/he is an irate passenger, a former coworker, or a Metro employee or union officer who is upset by what I’ve written.

      In any case, I figure this is a good opportunity to address the issues they raised (and the assumptions they made):

      1) This website/blog is registered in my real name.

      Safety has always been my first priority:

      2) After my first few years at Metro I lost count of the number of times my coworkers and I opened ‘tickets’ (aka ‘work orders’) to get something repaired only to have the tickets closed without any work being done.

      3) Likewise with notifying management of problems that were potential safety and/or reliability concerns. I did that dozens of times over the years. There would typically be some head nodding and then…nothing.

      4) While I was working at Metro I contacted OSHA, the EPA, and my congressman among others outside of WMATA. My congressman (Roscoe Bartlett) actually exchanged a couple letters with the chairman of the WMATA Board over a safety issue I raised with him — the black metalic ‘tunnel dust’ that permeates all of the underground stations. The chairman “misinformed” him about what was being done and of course nothing ever changed. Passengers and employees are still sucking tunnel dust into their lungs every day. In fact, the problem is getting worse.

      5) I have also contacted local media on numerous occasions — newspapers, radio, and TV stations. Typically I got no response, although I was able to get a few stories in print or on the air.

      6) Sometimes, my coworkers and I would take it upon ourselves to correct problems that were not our responsibility. We knew that no good could come from it. The best that would happen would be nothing. Often, going ‘above and beyond’ would result in some sort of reprimand or discipline, so most employees would quickly go into Sgt. Schultz (Hogan’s Heroes) mode — “I know nothing, I see nothing…”.

      7) Reporting problems was often actively discouraged. Some people at Maint. Control (MOC) would act as if they personally were going to have to fix the problem! They’d hang up on us, or put us on hold for 20 minutes and they were frequently surly and rude on the phone. Even so, a few of my coworkers and I would keep at it.

      Anyone who has read even a few of my posts would be aware of most of the above.

      Much of what I did involved the risk of retaliation, up to and including losing my job. Very few employees were willing to do what I did. It got to the point where my reputation preceded me. People would approach me and suggest that _I_ do something about a particular issue — “I’ll be right behind you!!”. Uh-huh. They’d often be all worked up and irate about something but when it came down to actually saying or _doing_ anything, well…

  3. I think what you’re doing with this blog is awesome. Don’t stop, whatever you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re posting from retirement or active duty, the point is that you are doing something to benefit others. (raising commuter awareness.) That comment was totally wrong about you. Name calling sucks. At least when you point your finger, it is in the right direction.

  4. I agree with Trina 100%! Don’t stop. As a matter of fact regarding this response:

    “4) While I was working at Metro I contacted OSHA, the EPA, and my congressman among others outside of WMATA. My congressman (Roscoe Bartlett) actually exchanged a couple letters with the chairman of the WMATA Board over a safety issue I raised with him — the black metalic ‘tunnel dust’ that permeates all of the underground stations. The chairman “misinformed” him about what was being done and of course nothing ever changed. Passengers and employees are still sucking tunnel dust into their lungs every day. In fact, the problem is getting worse. ”

    Would you hazard a guess in your opinion that this is brake dust from the trains?

    • I haven’t seen any test results, but yes, I would say it’s a safe bet that a good portion of the ‘tunnel dust’ is from brake pads and rotors.

      [I was in Automatic Train Control (ATC), not Car Maintenance (CMNT), so my knowledge of how rail cars work is limited, but I believe the following is fairly accurate]:

      For those who aren’t aware, the braking system on a rail car functions similarly to those on hybrid vehicles. They have both “dynamic” and traditional friction braking. The dynamic brakes function by turning the traction motors (the motors that move the train) into generators and connecting them to a load. On the older rail cars, the load was a bank of resistors mounted under the train. In this way, the kinetic energy of the train was turned into heat (which would simply dissipate and be wasted). The resistors could get extremely hot and in some cases would ignite fires. The newer rail cars actually feed energy back into third rail, using that as the load. Below a certain speed (say 10 to 12 mph?) the friction brakes are used to bring the train to a stop.

      The friction brakes are essentially very large, heavy-duty, vented disc brakes. The brake pads are fairly ‘aggressive’ and eat into the surface of the rotors. So the portion of the tunnel dust that comes from the brakes is composed of both pad material and iron.

      When I worked at Grosvenor (A11), I had one of those magnetic business cards on my locker. The surface was originally white. After just a few weeks it had turned black — this was on a vertical surface, inside the train control room (TCR). It became clear over the years that many people in Metro management did not care about the front line employees or our working conditions, but you’d think they might care about the ATC equipment. While I can’t prove that the tunnel dust has been the primary cause of any failures, having metallic dust everywhere obviously isn’t a good environment for electrical and electronic equipment.

      At one point, back in the late ’90s, I brought a Honeywell HEPA filter in to work and put it in the A11 TCR. It was large and relatively expensive. I set it on top of the equipment cabinet directly in front of the HVAC air return vent. It was destroyed within 2 months. The filter had loaded up with tunnel dust and the motor was straining so hard to pull air through that the bearings failed. I still have the unit and the filter. Keep in mind, it was located at the air _return_, the supply would have been even dirtier.

      Metro claims that years ago OSHA or the EPA tested the air in a station and determined that it was safe. I’ve never seen that data (if it even exists). In fact, when I was trying to get something done about the dust, I called the local and federal offices of both the EPA and OSHA and was blown off by all of them. One office, I believe it was OSHA, actually sent me a letter that said OSHA has no jurisdiction on WMATA property. In other words, once again the 51st State (aka the Evil Empire) does whatever it wants.

      Maybe the tunnel dust isn’t a problem for either humans or equipment, but without any objective data I find that hard to believe.

      Installing high quality air filters would significantly reduce the problem. Some air handlers have no filtration at all — the filters were neglected for so long that they disintegrated and were never replaced. When there are filters installed, they are those ineffective ones that use glass fiber that is so porous you can see your hand through it. They won’t trap anything much smaller than a tumble weed. At one point I spoke with a gentleman who had sold electrostatic filters to the NYC subway system (MTA) because the MTA was concerned about tunnel dust in their system. Electrostatic filters are the type that use an electrical charge to trap particles, as opposed to mechanical filtration like HEPA filters. They are more expensive up front but save money in the long run. Anyway, I gave him a couple contact numbers at WMATA and he got in touch with the appropriate people and offered to install a filter completely free of charge as a demo. They declined. He tried a few more times but finally gave up.

      For anyone who doesn’t know what tunnel dust is, it can be found on just about any horizontal surface in any underground station that isn’t cleaned regularly.

  5. evan says:

    I agree! this is a great blog, keep up the good work=) very helpful.
    I have a question: I am scheduled to go for an interview (WMATA) for the ELES Journeyman position. Does anyone know the procedure of the interview? what to except? how long it takes? any tests involved? Any information from anyone that has been through this interview would be great! Id really appreciate it. Thanks=)

    • Thank you Evan!

      Unfortunately, since I was in Automatic Train Control (ATC) I can’t help you with anything related to the Elevator/Escalator dept (ELES). You might contact the union — Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689. Someone there should be able to put you in touch with a couple people in ELES who can help. The ATU Local 689 website is: http://atulocal689.org/. The phone # is 301-568-6899.

      I took a quick look under the “contact” tab to see if any of the shop stewards or executive board members are in ELES but it doesn’t look like it.

      Good luck with the interview! Are you considering any other potential employers?

  6. GRS033 says:

    I wonder if you could share what happened way back when the Silver Spring relay room flooded. It just seems so peculiar to me that a relay room would be placed at a low grade where it could be subject to flooding. All our relay rooms are located at platform level (at their lowest points) if not, on a service level between street level and the platform.

    What was done to get the track circuits back up and running, were trains operating without aspects at that point, and was the equipment all replaced, etc?

    This is a subject I’ve been curious about for a while


  7. Many train control rooms (TCRs) are at lower levels. I’m not sure why — perhaps in part to reduce the amount of cable used.

    IIRC, train service was completely shut down while the Silver Spring (B08) TCR equipment was replaced. Buses were used to ferry people from B09 to B07 and vice versa. It was a nightmare for passengers who wanted to travel from any of the stations beyond B08 to downtown, and it all was completely avoidable. Multiple ATC techs had reported the water problems over the years and they were repeatedly ignored.

    B08 was the first location I picked back in 1983, and water was a problem then.

  8. Tk says:

    I am so glad I found your website. I was wondering about the smells in the metro tunnels. I suspected it was a mixture of brake dust and ozone. Brake dust because, well it smells like brake dust, just smell near your car tires after a long day of driving. Ozone because I suspected it comes from arching off the third rail, and it smells like ozone, at least to me. Any suggestion for how to ameliorate the situation?

    Also I read your report regarding the air pollution in the tunnels. This does not surprise me. The air exchangers do not run often enough and even when they do, they seem insufficient when compared to the volume of the tunnels, IMHO. NY Metro tunnels are not as deep as they are in DC, and they seem to have better everything all around(air, drivers, convenience!). In regards to the WMATA staff, they are helpful and nice, and seem dreadfully understaffed from what I can tell based on the amount of maintenance done versus the number of burn out lights and broken escalators. Sadly, it took the anniversary for some of the lights at various stops to finally be replaced. WMATA is a frustrating situation, especially when you consider the premium payed versus the quality of service delivered.

    Finally why do people drive the trains so piss poor these days? No offence, but these days they tend to put the pedal to the metal off the line and brake at the last minute, like a high school teenager who just got their license.

  9. Roger says:

    What would it take to make Metro as efficient as the one that the Danes have in Copenhagen? http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/copenhagen/

    • Great question! I wonder what others thing. I presume that continuous improvement management systems help public transit evolve over time by integrating improvements and listening to rider feedback.

  10. Jay Smith says:

    Red Rape Line
    I stopped a rape on the Red line this morning. It was in the happy hunting grounds between SS and Glenmont. After stopping the criminal, we attempted to report the incident, but the station masters were not inclined to act and shrugged it off. They are aiding and abetting these rapes and murders.

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