Recent derailment reminiscent of Bethesda double derailment several years ago

The most recent derailment reminds me of the double derailment at Bethesda several years ago.

The hardware that secures the rail in that area is Pandrol clips. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandrol)

According to my coworkers, they found that approximately 20 feet of rail had badly corroded or misssing Pandrol clips due to water leakage in the tunnel. They reported this dangerous condition twice, and twice the ‘ticket’ was closed without so much as an inspection.

About two weeks after their last report, the rail broke free under a train and it derailed. Apparently no one thought to investigate the cause of the derailment so when the rescue train was sent from Shady Grove, it derailed also. Then two additional rescue trains had to be dispatched — one from each direction.

Luckily, no one was hurt.

All of that could have been avoided had my coworkers been taken seriously.

That was (and I assume still is) a serious problem when I was an active employee — more often than not, when we reported problems — whether it was with track equipment or security issues or HVAC equipment — we were ignored.  Work orders were routinely closed without any work being done.

It was very frustrating, and sometimes dangerous.

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Two Year Anniversary of the deaths of Jeff Garrard & Sung Oh

[I meant to post this on January 26.  Somehow it was left as a “draft” and not posted.]:

Today, January 26, 2012, is the two year anniversary of the completely avoidable and incredibly tragic accident that killed my former coworkers Jeff Garrard and Sung Oh.  To the best of my knowledge the NTSB _still_ hasn’t released an accident report. Ordinarily it may take the NTSB up to one year after an accident to complete a report, but they were investigating four (4) deadly accidents at Metro simultaneously so my coworkers and I expected that it might take a few months longer than usual — but two years?!

The NTSB report on the June, 2009, accident was released in July of 2010, a full year and a half ago.

At the very least, the widows, family, friends, and coworkers of Jeff and Sung have the right to expect that their deaths will be treated as seriously as any others.  The NTSB report is necessary if we are to learn anything from the accident that killed them.

If the NTSB does not release their report very soon, I would not blame the widows, family, friends, and/or former coworkers of Jeff and Sung if they began to think that there is some sort of collusion between WMATA and the NTSB — some sort of cover-up.  I have no reason to suspect that but how else to explain a two (2) year delay (and counting) between the date of the accident and the issuance of the NTSB report?

Jeff and Sung will not be forgotten by those who knew them and worked with them.  My hope is that WMATA, Local 689, and the transit industry in general will learn from the NTSB report and as a result the lives of others will be saved.

Rest in peace Jeff and Sung.

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Metro Admits Liability for June 22, 2009 Wreck

I’m glad to see that after over 2 1/2 years Metro has finally done the right thing and admitted liability for the June 22, 2009 wreck — even if it was for legal expediency.

It is unclear to me why Ansaldo, ARINC, and Alstom share legal responsibility for the wreck.  I imagine that any company with deep pockets that was even remotely connected to the wreck was named in the lawsuits, but all of the publicly available information as well as what I am aware of as someone who was an Automatic Train Control (ATC) tech at the time indicates that Metro was almost entirely at fault.

As horrific as the June 22 wreck was, I’m concerned that it may be overshadowing the multiple other accidents in which only Metro employees were killed.

I’d like to know why the NTSB hasn’t released a report yet regarding the January 26, 2010, accident that killed two of my former Metro coworkers in ATC — Jeff Garrard and Sung Oh.
It is apparently common for NTSB accident reports to not be released for months after an accident, up to a year in some cases, but Mr. Garrard and Mr. Oh were killed over two (2) years ago.
Where is the coverage of the accident that killed them?
They were run over by a “hi-rail” truck that was being operated in reverse. Metro specifies that their hi-rail trucks shall have _no_ backup alarm while on the rails (the alarm is only operational when the truck is off the rails). I have yet to hear an explanation for this. Had Metro instructed the truck equipment mfr to make the alarm operational at all times, Mr. Garrard and Mr. Oh would almost certainly be alive today.
The lack of a backup alarm is only one of several issues that led to their deaths, but it is one of the most concrete and hard to refute.
Will WMATA own up to their gross negligence and liability in that accident as well?  Will the families and/or widows of the deceased Metro employees receive multi-million dollar settlements?  The answer is no.
Many people do not realize that if a worker who is covered by Worker’s Compensation (WC) insurance is killed on the job — even if it is due to gross negligence and/or recklessness on the part of their employer — their family/estate cannot sue the employer! Carrying WC insurance protects employers from lawsuits — all injuries and deaths become essentially ‘no fault’ events. If a worker is injured due to their own carelessness, WC can be beneficial — but if they are killed on the job, their family will likely receive less from WC than a person who breaks their arm on Metro property will receive in a typical lawsuit.
The families or estates of those killed in the June 22, 2009, wreck received millions of dollars, which is as it should be, but the families of Metro employees who are killed (like the train operator in the June 22 wreck, Jeanice McMillan) will be lucky to receive two (2) years worth of WC benefits, which often add up to less than $100k — then they’re on their own.  “Sorry about your dead husband/wife/son/daughter…Buh, bye now!”
Remember — by accepting employment with an employer who carries WC insurance (almost all do) you are forfeiting your right (or your family’s right) to sue if you are injured or killed on the job — even if your employer was clearly at fault.

Let’s hope that Metro admitting liability for the June 22 wreck is an indicator of how they will handle the multiple accidents in which employees were killed.  Basic fairness requires that Metro should pay the same amount regardless of whether the person the Authority killed is a passenger or employee.

Posted in Inadequate Training, Malfunctions, Management Follies, Public Opinion, Safety Incidents, The Metro Hall of Shame | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Overtime Limits Part of Contract Negotiations?

Fatigue due to excessive overtime (OT) is in the news again.

I found it interesting that WMATA sees this serious safety issue as a ‘bargaining chip’:

“Metro officials have said they plan to rely on a study released last week by the Tri-State Oversight Committee on worker fatigue as leverage in the upcoming negotiations for the new contract.”

I wonder how that might play out?:

[WMATA to Local 689]: “OK, we’ll let your members work 24 hours straight if they’ll agree to pay 10% more toward their health insurance premiums…”

This is a safety related issue and should not be used as leverage in the contract negotiations.  It is management’s responsibility to do the right thing and follow the advice of the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC).  To do otherwise is tantamount to announcing that WMATA will raise the acceptable blood alcohol content (BAC) level if Local 689 will agree to a lower pay increase or some other concession.

The article said, “The report found that some employees occasionally work 16 hours or more in a day, as The Washington Examiner first reported in May.”

Occasionally?!  In Automatic Train Control (ATC) and other departments it is _routine_ for employees to work a double (16 hours straight).  Frequently employees will work two or more doubles in a row.

It goes on to say, “The transit agency now says it is planning to phase in a 14-hour limit by April 2014.”

There is no reason that it must take almost 2 1/2 years for the changes to be made.  That’s ridiculous.  In previous posts I’ve suggested that employees be limited to no more than 12 hours in any 24 hour period, and/or that they be allowed to work 16 hours as long as that’s followed by an 8 hour break _and_ either a regular 8 hour shift or a day off.

8, 12, or 16 hour shifts make the most sense logistically.  They either divide evenly into 24 hours or add up to 24 (8 + 16).  14 hours is an odd amount of time.  I suppose employees could be routinely scheduled for 12 hour OT shifts (either all OT or 8 regular + 4 OT) and then held over up to no more than 14 hours when absolutely necessary.

This should be interesting to watch.  My guess is that neither the union nor WMATA want to cut OT hours.  The union because there are many members who have come to rely upon OT — to pay their bills and/or to boost their ‘High 4’ (to increase their pension benefit).  WMATA because it is cheaper to pay OT than to hire additional employees.  I doubt either side will be able to fool the other.  Both would like to maintain the status quo.

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Excessive Overtime Causes Fatigue

I’ve written about the very serious problems caused by employees working too much overtime (OT) several times before — here, here, here, and most recently here.

In the news lately is a story that suggests the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) is finally beginning to acknowledge the issue.  Quote:

“One employee in Metro’s automated train control division said he was “constantly fixing mistakes” made by his colleagues and “attributed the poor work quality,” in part, to fatigue.”

Quote:

““Unlike [sic] somebody who might be intoxicated, people don’t realize they reach a point where they’re fatigued and their judgment is clouded,” Downey said.”

I’m sure Downey meant to say, “_Like_ somebody who…”.

Quote:

“In 2004, a train rolled back and hit a parked train at Woodley Park. Some passengers suffered minor injuries. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed the operator was fatigued and had “likely fallen asleep at the controls.””

Quote:

“The study revealed that workers in Metro’s automated train control division, which is responsible for inspecting and running the signal system that moves trains, “expressed some of the highest degrees of concern about fatigue.”

The employees said the system’s regular maintenance and the push for repairs were “disproportionate to the available personnel resources,” noting that their department has 212 employees with 30 vacancies as of Sept. 30.”

Needless to say, I hope something comes from this but I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve suggested that one compromise might be to limit consecutive OT shifts to 12 hours, and allow 16 hour shifts followed by no more than a regular 8 hour shift the following day.  So for example, an employee could work 12 hours/day, 7 days/week, or they could work 16/8/16/8/16/8/16.  That would allow either 84 hours/week or 88 hours/week.  That should be enough for all but the greediest OT hounds, while making the system safer for employees and passengers.

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Cembre Connectors, Part 2

Back in January, I posted about the Cembre connectors Metro has been using for the past few years.

A member of Metro management (who I knew casually the entire 27 years I was at Metro) recently discovered that post and commented on it.  He said:

“You neglect to mention the rail clamp also has a small surface area. You also fail to mention that the frequent cause of Cembre failure is, like a rail clamp, faulty installation practices.”

In that post I wrote (in part):

“Rail clamps do break, but typically it is because the person who installed the clamp over-tightened it. There is a torque spec (maybe 50 lb-ft) but management has never issued techs torque wrenches so they are left guessing at what is the proper torque. Most people over-tighten just about everything – it seems to be human nature. If snug is good, then 200 lb-ft is better, right?”

So, we agree that “faulty installation” is a factor but I would suggest that a large portion of the blame for that rests with management.  Over the years my coworkers and I repeatedly asked for torque wrenches so that we could properly tighten rail clamp bolts and other hardware.  Our requests were ignored — for _decades_.  I imagine things haven’t changed, and techs are still expected to ‘guesstimate’ when torquing hardware.  In addition, we did not receive, nor am I aware of, any official training on the proper installation of rail clamps.  Any training was ‘OJT’ (on the job training) — often left up to technicians (not supervisors or instructors) which meant it was hit-and-miss.  I wrote about the lack of training here.

The Cembre lugs, particularly the ones that are mfrd with a 45 degree bend, tend to break:

This may be due to the copper being brittle and prone to stress cracks, it may be due to the cable being installed with tension on it (or both) but they appear to be more likely to fail than the rail clamps.

The statement, “…the rail clamp also has a small surface area” is disingenuous.  The rail clamp ‘basket’ (the part that makes contact with the rail) clearly has a much larger surface area than the two small flat washer sized areas on the Cembre connector.  See the photos in my initial post.  It’s not even close.  What that means is that when carrying high amperage, the Cembre connectors are more likely to become burnt and pitted — and fail, causing train delays and unnecessarily risking ATC techs’ lives (because anytime employees go wayside they risk injury or death) when they could be performing other duties.

Here is a close-up photo of two rail clamps that I took after one of the back-to-back derailments just north of the Shady Grove platform.  Hopefully there is enough detail visible to show how they are constructed.  The one on the right was damaged by the train:

Here’s another that shows the ‘basket’ around the cable better.  It is another derailment photo, the clamp was broken and the cable and basket were moved:

I’ll close the same way I did back in January:

For the safety of my former coworkers and the convenience of the passengers, I hope ATC management will do the right thing and admit that using the Cembre connectors – however well-intentioned – was and is a bad mistake.

ATC should go back to using the rail clamps (or something better).

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The true cost of commuting

There is a positive story over on Unsuckdcmetro written by a guy named Chad who got so fed up with Metro that he decided to begin biking to work.  He ended up losing 50 lbs and just completed an IronMan distance triathalon.

I read through the comments and there were some that came up several times:

1) How do you deal with showering and changing clothes before work?

2) I’d like to walk/bike to work but I live too far away.

Most of those that live far away do so because they think they are saving money (rents are higher in D.C. than in the suburbs).

This got me thinking about the cost of commuting.  Most people talk in terms of how much the gasoline costs, but of course the true cost is much more than that.  I posted the following comment:

Does living far from the city really save money?
I can understand people who grew up in the suburbs or exurbs (or moved there years ago) deciding to ‘grin and bear it’ (the commute) — they might have family in the area, kids in school, ties to the community, etc — what I really don’t understand are people who take a job in the D.C. area and then buy or rent a place in say Frederick County, MD, or points north and west –Washington County, MD, or even PA or WV, knowing they are going to have an epic 3 to 4+ hour round-trip commute every day. That’s insanity. They may think they’re saving money, but by the time one figures the cost of commuting, not to mention whatever value they place on their time away from their spouse and/or family, and the stress and risk involved, there’s just no way it’s worth it. Not even close. Most people apparently do not value their time much at all (unless they are at work, then of course they want to be paid for every minute) and they think the cost of driving is just the cost of gas. That’s not even half of the cost! The April 2011 CR Auto Issue lists the cost per mile of a range of cars. The _cheapest_ is the Honda Fit at $0.44/mile. The most expensive is the BMW 750Li @ $1.81/mile! An ordinary Chevy Impala is $0.69/mile. That’s for the first 5 years when there is a lot of depreciation, so it’s possible that the cost/mile would go down some if a person kept their car until it had say 250K miles on it. Then again, while older cars don’t depreciate as much as new cars they need more repairs and maintenance. In any case, let’s say it’s $0.50/mile (IIRC, that’s about what the IRS allows in some cases). For many people who live in outlying areas, it’s common to drive 100 miles per day. 100 miles a day = $50 per day! With 22 work days per month that’s $1,100 per month — in after tax money. It’s even more if they ride Metro, which can easily cost $12-$14+ per day for parking and a round-trip ride. So that “cheap” house or apartment miles from the city isn’t so cheap after all. $1,100 after taxes is the equivalent of at least $1,500 before taxes. That means that if a homeowner has a newer mortgage that is almost entirely deductible interest, they could afford to spend $1,500 more per month for a house near where they work! $1,500/month!! A renter would have $1,100 extra per month. That is counting _nothing_ for their time. Nothing for the reduced stress, aggravation, and risk to their life of commuting.
Something to think about.

 

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The Metro Music Video

Washington D.C. Metro is probably the only public transit system that’s had a music video made for it. Check out the video below.

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Labor Day

The following was written by Rod Sullivan, a Johnson County, Iowa, commissioner.  I am posting it here with his permission:

#####

*Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day next Monday! I love Labor Day. Every Memorial Day and
Veteran’s Day we set aside time to recall the folks whose service has given
us our freedom. I have long felt we need to treat Labor Day in a similar
fashion.

Please take a moment this Labor Day to remember the people who fought (and
often died) to give us child labor laws, 40 hour weeks, weekends, overtime,
vacations, the minimum wage, sick leave, parental leave, OSHA, employment
nondiscrimination, pensions, Social Security, health insurance, and so much
more.

Do not be fooled! These benefits were not GIVEN to workers by benevolent
corporations! They were earned by workers who sacrificed! It is a shame that
so many average Joes have chosen to support our corporate masters versus
supporting those whose efforts really benefit the masses.

Unions continue to provide the best protection working people can have. I
feel as though I have accomplished some good things as a member of the Board
of Supervisors. One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud is
starting an employee appreciation lunch every year the week of Labor Day.
Johnson County employees deserve much more, but this is one extra
opportunity to say thank you.

Trust me – the average person has nothing to fear from unions. We all
benefit when folks have safe and healthy workplaces. We all benefit when
workers get adequate rest.  [emphasis added]. We all benefit when workers receive good
training. We all benefit when folks earn a living wage and have health
insurance. Unions help improve the quality of life for all of us.

One example of a way in which unions benefit everyone: much is made of the
automobile industry expanding into the southern US. While these are not
union plants, workers still have good wages and benefits. Some see this as
an indictment of unions. It is precisely the opposite.

Do not think for a minute that these companies pay $22 per hour because they
WANT to. They would be much happier to pay $4 per hour. And, when China’s
workforce improves in quality to the point that they can do automotive work,
the companies will move there.

Understand – big companies exists for one reason, and that is to earn a
profit. If the laws allowed slavery, companies would use it. Because it is
cheaper.

So why do they pay $22 in the southern US? Because of the threat of the
United Auto Workers (UAW). If the wages or benefits ever sink too low, UAW
could unionize those workers. The car companies don’t want that, so they pay
the lowest possible acceptable wage.

See? The UAW does not represent the workers at those plants. But they have
driven up the wages and benefits for the workers there all the same.

I am proud to be a member of Local 716 of the American Federation of
Teachers, an affiliate of the Iowa City Federation of Labor. Happy Labor
Day!

#####

 

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Forced Overtime

The Washington Post recently published a “Doctor Gridlock” column about forced overtime at Metro.
The issue of forced overtime (OT) was one of many things that bothered me while I was an active employee.
WMATA would (and apparently still does) arbitrarily declare an “emergency” in order to be able to force people to work. In addition, they would often ignore the contract completely — with the tacit approval of Local 689 — by decreeing that all employees in certain departments MUST work arbitrary 12 hour shifts. There was no effort to use the OT list, and no use of reverse seniority (as required by the contract) — just a blanket proclamation that everyone had to work.
For President Obama’s Inauguration, the two 12 hour shifts were 0600 (6 am) to 1800 (6 pm) and 1800 to 0600 hours. The evening (PM) shift automatic train control (ATC) personnel were ordered to work the 1800 to 0600 shift, and the AM shift worked 0600 to 1800. Those on midnight shift could choose either shift. For most people on AM shift, 0600 to 1800 probably wasn’t too bad — come in an hour early, avoid traffic, stay 3 hours late, get home in time for dinner and get a good night’s sleep. For most PM shift personnel, being forced to work 1800 to 0600 was horrible — drive in to work at the worst possible time (evening rush hour), stay up all night, and then drive home sleep deprived through morning rush hour traffic.
If this forced OT was absolutely unavoidable that would be one thing, but it clearly was not.
I complained about it ahead of time, and Jackie Jeter (the president of ATU Local 689) signed a “Letter of Understanding” with someone in middle management that said essentially that Metro would only utilize _volunteers_ for the 12 hour shifts. That letter turned out to be worth it’s weight in tunnel dust. It was promptly ignored, without any protest from Local 689.
I refused to work and called in sick. I know a few others who did as well, but most went ahead and worked — presumably because they wanted/needed the OT and/or were afraid of the repercussions from calling in sick.
All management had to do was abide by the letter that they signed and follow the contract — offer 12 hour and/or double shifts to everyone on the OT list and then, if they _truly_ needed more people, utilize reverse seniority. Instead, they chose to make up their own rules and Local 689 let them get away with it.
Both the union and management should be forced to follow the contract. They already ‘interpret’ many sections of it however they want to, when it suits them. No good can come from allowing them even more leeway.
It is important for (most) people to have a regular schedule and get a reasonable amount of sleep every night. Metro’s own Safety dept has said that sleep deprivation is a serious problem. It is bad enough that Metro employees can potentially have their reporting location, shift, and/or days off change every 6 months (“Live and work in MD? Too bad, you’ve been bumped to Alexandria. Hit the road!”). For management to have the ability to arbitrarily assign workers to different shifts whenever they declare a bogus “emergency” is unacceptable and potentially unsafe.
What constitutes an emergency must be more strictly defined. To me, an emergency is an event that could not be foreseen — NOT scheduled events like the 4th of July, presidential Inaugurations, concerts, ball games, protest marches, or a storm that was forecast days in advance, etc. For purposes of the ‘Agreement’ (contract) between Local 689 and WMATA, an emergency might be defined as, “Any unforeseen event that negatively affects the safe & efficient operation of the Metrorail system.” Examples might be:
1) Derailments — either Metro rail car(s) or CSX.
2) A vehicle or debris on the tracks.
3) Fire.
4) Explosion.
5) Tunnel or station ceiling collapse.
6) Power failure.
7) Hazmat spill.
Even an equipment failure might even be described as an emergency, depending on the circumstances. I would agree that there are situations where it would be reasonable for OCC/MOC (Central or Maintenance Control) to request that personnel remain on site until the next shift arrives — but every effort should be made to get the relief personnel there ASAP.
A scheduled event does not fit any reasonable definition of the word ’emergency’.
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