Metro knew about track problem in July

The derailment of a non-passenger train outside the Smithsonian Metro station last Thursday was caused by a track defect that was discovered on July 9 but not fixed, Metro said.

The transit agency is again facing public scrutiny after the derailment happened as the morning commute got underway that day. A six-car train was leaving the rail yard and gearing up for service near the Smithsonian Metro station.

Metro interim general manager and CEO Jack Requa said the train's wheels lost contact with the rail due to an infrastructure problem known as "wide gauge." The rail had widen so much that it caused the wheels to lose grip from the tracks and the train's eventual derailment.

"The one that was detected was a Code Black defect," said Metro deputy general manager Rob Troup. "That track should have been taken out of service at that period of time."

"I want to take this opportunity to again and again apologize to our customers," Requa said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

He said he could not defend the transit agency's failure to repair the issue prior to the derailment.

"This is totally unacceptable," said Requa. "It is unacceptable to me and it should be unacceptable to everyone within the chain of command, all the way down to track laborers and track inspectors who are out on the lines on a first-line basis." 

Following the derailment, Requa ordered a system-wide inspection of every mile of track, which could take up to a month to complete. He said customers can expect delays in the coming days as possible additional track repairs are made. 

Requa apologized to customers for Thursday's derailment and delays caused by a power issue the following day. 

The transit agency said it issued refunds to 158,000 Blue, Silver and Orange line riders who were inconvenienced during last Friday's morning commute.

"We know that our customers have commuting choices and my goal is to ensure that Metro remains the best choice for as many people as possible," Requa said. 

Requa said once the investigation into the derailment is complete, he expects some sort of repercussions, which could include the termination of Metro employees. 

Rep. Chris Van Hollen released the following statement about Metro's new information about the derailment:

“The fact that WMATA was aware of the track defect that caused last week’s derailment in July yet took no corrective action is more than unacceptable – it is gross negligence that points to a troubling incompetence in the Metro system’s safety practices. By sheer luck, last week’s accident did not harm any passengers or Metro employees. Every Metro rider deserves their safety to be guaranteed by more than luck, and Metro must immediately disclose what actions are being taken to ensure every known track defect is fixed immediately upon detection.”

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