Washington Metro puts workers in danger during re-powering maneuver to speed up process

Written by RT&S Staff
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The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission says Washington Metro is putting its workers in danger.
DC Metro

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission is calling out the Washington Metro once again.

This time it involves Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) and the safety of track workers during a power shut-off. The rule was changed last fall due to earlier violations, and deals with how ROCC staff are supposed to restore power to tracks when it has been turned off due to track work, emergencies, etc.

There are two ways to turn off power to the tracks. During red tag outages, breakers are physically removed from their housings to prevent circuits from being completed and stopping the flow of electricity. This way personnel can be positive that power to the section of track cannot be restored because there is no way for the circuit to be completed.

The rule was changed a few months ago and added a supervisory role to the process. When a track crew or rail official gives the ROCC permission to restore power to a section of track, a second group (usually contractors) are supposed to double check the request and give their own authorization. Once that is complete the ROCC coordinates with on-site power personnel to reconnect the breakers previously removed so the electrical circuits can be completed. The ROCC then remotely turns the power back on.

However, in one situation ROCC personnel instructed power employees in the field to manually close the breakers, which energized circuits that had previously been disconnected. The ROCC was supposed to do this action remotely.

Having personnel out in the field manually turn power back on “creates a risk of electric shock for employees or contractors who may be on the roadway,” according to the WMSC.

Additionally, in the past controllers have run into issues attempting to open breakers (de-energize third-rail power) because the breakers were never racked in properly and ROCC personnel never attempted remote re-powering steps in accordance to the new rule. Managers purposely disregarded protocols to speed up power restoration.

Also, by not verifying that the ROCC can remotely turn power back on, personnel fail to show that the ROCC can remotely turn power back off in that same section of track.

“There are a risk for riders, first responders and employees that controllers may not be able to open a breaker remotely to shut off power in an emergency,” said the WMSC.

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