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Metro responds on transit safety issues

Before the Metro board met Thursday to approve the 10-cent surcharge and avoid service cuts, a board committee met to review the latest developments in Metro's safety procedures. The staff presentation, scheduled before the deaths of two track workers this week, included an update on a contract with DuPont Safety Resources, hired in 2007 to reduce the number of work-related injuries and bus and rail accidents.

The staff presentation, which you can review here, included an accounting: About $6 million has been spent on the contract, but Metro estimates it has avoided $13 million in expenditures it otherwise would have incurred as a result of on-the-job accidents.

The presentation was designed to show a numeric measurement of the contract's progress. But those weren't the numbers that the board members were thinking of. They were thinking of the number two. Specifically, they were thinking of Jeff Garrard, 49, and Sung Duk Oh, 68, killed Tuesday when a three-ton truck backed into them as they worked on the Red Line tracks.

The general sentiment among board members commenting was that they do not want any more consultants, study committees or blue ribbon panels on safety. They want to keep people from dying on Metro's tracks.

Board member Gordon Linton of Maryland, for example, wanted to know whether Metro was exploring new technologies -- perhaps already in use by other transit systems or the military -- that could warn workers of the presence of other workers or track the movements of workers along the railroad. Yes, said Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn and Dave Kubicek, the head of Metrorail operations.

[See Taborn's Jan. 27 safety report to the Tri-State Oversight Committee.]

"The bottom line gets down to the organization," Linton said, "holding people accountable, citing employees for violating the rules, even when the rule violation does not result in an accident."

Board member Catherine Hudgins of Virginia noted that "We've measured the Dupont contract in its savings on workers' claims, but what about measuring the contract in terms of safety problems? ... It's the small things you do that build up to a tragedy. ... How do we measure that?"

Jeffrey McKay, a board member from Virginia, said the value of the Dupont contract was obvious, "But we have to get over the Dupont contract. On the ground, we've had some significant issues."

Each and every employee has to be held accountable for safety, McKay said. The board has heard a lot about safety programs, like the contract, that amount to steps in the right direction. But "our riders are more interested in finding out what we're doing after incidents to make sure they don't happen again."

Kubicek talked about the need for senior managers -- like him -- to be directly involved in safety. He said that he and Taborn, who has taken on responsibility for directing Metro's safety program, have been working closely on this. Citing a personal example, Kubicek said that he had been out with employees during the three days of work that spanned the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, watching how well safety rules are followed.

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. focused on the role of Metro supervisors in ensuring safety, rather than reacting to safety problems after they have occurred. He said he intends to hold Metro superintendents accountable not just for incidents but also for failing to be aggressive in discovering and fixing safety problems before people get hurt.

Peter Benjamin of Maryland, who was elected board chairman Thursday, said, "It's clear that what we have done doesn't seem to be working."

By Robert Thomson  |  January 29, 2010; 3:41 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro board, Metro safety  
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