WASHINGTON - There are new signs that a Metro shutdown may be back on the table. The Federal Transit Administration has issued a new directive ordering the transit system to complete urgent repairs at three critical locations before they start work on the massive maintenance program announced last week.
The directive from FTA acting administrator Carolyn Flowers is requiring track repairs on the Red Line between the Medical Center and Van Ness stations, on Orange and Silver lines from Ballston-MU to East Falls Church and Potomac Avenue station to the D&G junction on Blue, Orange and Silver lines.
The letter also reveals new details on how widespread and frequent these safety problems are occurring. From April 23 to May 10, FTA officials have investigated 15 safety events - nine of them involved smoke and fire.
On Tuesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he would shut down Metro if officials don't follow FTA's safety directives.
On Wednesday, Metro Board chairman Jack Evans briefed the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments on the severity of the safety problems. Afterwards, Evans said he agreed with Foxx.
"If Secretary Foxx believes that it is unsafe, I'm in agreement with him," said Evans. "As you saw before, [Metro GM] Paul [Wiedefeld], myself and the board have no reservation about shutting down the system if it's not safe. We are not sending trains out there and putting people in danger. So if the secretary believes it's unsafe, we have communications with him and are able to verify that - no problem."
Regarding the FTA's letter, Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel said in a statement:
"Metro has received the FTA's May 11 letter and is reviewing it now. While the draft SafeTrack plan issued by Metro GM Wiedefeld last week was based on the professional judgement of engineers with a priority on safety, the FTA has directed Metro to make changes. As such, the draft plan will be modified. The final SafeTrack plan will be released as soon as possible, but likely will not be ready by the original target date of May 16. Meanwhile, it is important for riders to know that Metro GM Wiedefeld is not waiting on safety items. For example, the GM has directed that all porcelain insulators be removed from all underground stations over the next month, and NTSB-recommended sealing sleeves will be installed on all underground power cables by the end of May. In response to FTA's safety directive regarding power draw (#16-3), the GM has ordered operating restrictions in the core to limit train acceleration and speed."
On Thursday, we are expected to hear from Patrick Lavin, Metro's new chief safety officer, when the board meets at Metro headquarters.