EXCLUSIVE: Metro train operator speaks out to FOX 5 about ongoing safety issues

A Metro employee is speaking out about safety issues for the transit system. In NTSB hearings last week, we heard about all kinds of problems at Metro. But we are hearing exclusively from a train operator for the first time since a train filled with smoke killed one person while injuring 86 others last January. The operator said the issues go beyond the NTSB investigation. FOX 5's Alexandra Limon has more.

In last week's National Transportation Safety Board hearings, we heard about all kinds of problems about Metro. But a Metro train operator is speaking out about the safety issues on the transit system exclusively to FOX 5 and he said the issues go beyond the NTSB's investigation.

Metro employees have actually been reaching out to FOX 5 and this train operator asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation.

The main issue this employee is worried about is radio communications. You may remember communication issues were one of the main reasons help could not get to the passengers stuck on that smoky train fast enough at the L'Enfant Plaza station back in January. One person was killed and 86 others were injured during the incident.

“It's going to take the media or somebody else, some outside entity to shine a light on it so that something can get done because somebody is going to get killed,” said the employee.

Despite an ongoing NTSB investigation into Metro safety because of the L'Enfant Plaza incident, some employees claim Metro has ongoing safety issues that are not being addressed. This train operator told FOX 5 he is so worried that he felt the need to speak up.

He claims at times operators have no form of communication while running the trains. He said there are two issues -- one is with the operator's handheld radios.

“The current so-called new radios that we have, they time out, so you may get 20 minutes or 30 minutes of good reception,” the train operator said.

After that, he said they have no reception.

The employee also told FOX 5 there are also problems with train radios.

“So the issue that you have is if you're working with a 5000-[series train], which does not have a radio at all in the lead car of the train, that run on the line every day,” he said.

It means that if there is an emergency and the lead train is a 5000-series with no radio, and the operator's handheld radio has timed out or has no reception, that would leave them with no form of communication or get help.

Those are just some of his concerns. But the Metro employee said fear of retaliation stops employees from reporting safety issues.

“It's a blessing that NTSB came out with the issues that they raised, but these are the same issues that the operators have been raising to management and the union for years now and nothing has gotten done,” he said.

A spokesperson with Metro said some of the issues raised by the employee we spoke with are part of the NTSB's investigation and therefore Metro cannot address them. The spokesperson could not tell me whether or not those 5000-series trains have working radios.

Metro does have a close call reporting program, which allows employees to report safety issues anonymously. However, during last week's NTSB hearing, a union official testified that employees are afraid of using that reporting system because they are afraid of retaliation even though it is supposed to be anonymous.

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