When it comes to its own bridges, Washington Metro has a lot to learn.
An audit by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission has revealed that Metro does not know exactly how much weight its elevated structures can carry and that the agency needs to replace a type of bearing in 10 of is bridges. The agency also needs to make sure inspectors have proper training and credentials. The Commission has recommended 12 steps to improve safety on 148 elevated structures.
Safety Commission spokesman Max Smith says basic load ratings on structures are missing or not known, making it impossible to know if trains can travel safely on the bridges. The load ratings also are important when determining the number of trains that can safely pass on a given day. If there is an emergency or problem on the line, trains could be stuck on bridges for a long period of time, which is another reason why Metro needs to know the load numbers.
Rocker bearings need to be replaced in 10 of the structures. The bearings are no longer being used in the U.S., and if there is a seismic event in the D.C. area those bridges with the older bearing are at risk of failing.
The audit also says inspectors need to be trained better and need to have better tools available to them. The report recommended that supervisors spend more time out in the field with the inspectors. There also needs to be more oversight of contracted inspectors to make sure they have the necessary credentials, training and qualifications to handle the jobs that are assigned to them.
In a statement, Metro said it is committed to continuous improvement regarding its bridge maintenance and inspection programs.
The audit did note that some positive steps have been taken to improve the bridge program by Metro.