6 Metro employees fired after investigation into East Falls Church train derailment

A train derailed at the East Falls Church Metro on July, 29, 2016. Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 (ABC7 file photo)

Six Metro employees have been fired Thursday following an investigation into a train derailment at East Falls Church station.

Four track inspectors and two supervisors were fired, according to ABC7 News reporter Stephen Tschida.

Six more track inspectors are pending termination or unpaid suspension, and 10 additional track inspectors are pending possible suspensions.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld says employees falsified inspection reports. Wiedefeld called the behavior of employees reprehensible.

None of the Metro employees were charged in connection with the alleged false inspection reports, however, prosecutors are looking into the report, Tschida reports.

On July 29, a six-car Silver Line train heading towards the Wiehle-Reston East Station derailed while changing tracks near the East Falls Church Station. Cars four and five bore the brunt of the damage, partially tilting, but remaining upright.

Roughly 75 passengers were evacuated from the train. Two passengers were evaluated for injuries; one sustained a minor head wound because he was asleep at the time of the derailment.

Arlington County police and firefighters guided passengers down a metal ladder placed against the front door of the lead train car. The passengers then walked along the rocky train bed – roughly 120 feet – to the East Falls Church platform. Per WMATA protocol, the electrified third rail had been deactivated prior to the controlled evacuation.

Thursday morning, the General Manager and CEO of the Board Safety Commission released a statement regarding the firings:

I want to update the Committee on the status of Metro’s three reviews following the July 29 derailment at East Falls Church.

In the days following the incident, I was briefed on some of the early statements taken by Metro Safety Department investigators who interviewed track inspectors, as we searched for the root cause of the derailment. Based on some of the comments made by Metro employees regarding inspection activities, I felt it was necessary to refer the matter to Metro Transit Police for their review, which I did on August 18th. We also sought advice from an external law firm with criminal investigation experience who worked with Metro’s General Counsel to review this matter. Finally, the incident investigation led by the Safety department continued and worked in full cooperation with NTSB, FTA and Metro’s operations and administrative personnel. The NTSB issued their findings on December 1, including the release of some of the statements that we provided to the Safety Board and, as previously stated, are among the statements which led me to refer the matter to the police department.

MTPD has now completed its investigation. While no arrests were made, prosecutors were briefed on the findings and are taking the matter under advisement.

Metro concluded its safety investigation and is wrapping up our internal administrative review after evaluating track inspection reports dating back three years. The internal review determined that certain employees in the track department falsified track inspection records.

I want the Board, our employees and our customers to know that this review revealed a disturbing level of indifference, lack of accountability, and flagrant misconduct in a portion of Metro’s track department which is completely intolerable. Further, it is reprehensible that any supervisor or mid-level manager would tolerate or encourage this behavior, or seek to retaliate against those who objected. It is also entirely unacceptable to me that any employee went along with this activity, rather than exercise a safety challenge, or any of the multiple avenues available to protect themselves, their coworkers, and the riding public.

Since the derailment occurred, we have either taken action or are in the process of taking disciplinary actions involving 28 individuals. This represents nearly half of the track inspection department and includes BOTH management and frontline track employees.

Six employees have been terminated, including 4 track inspectors and 2 supervisors

Six more track inspectors are pending termination or unpaid suspension; and 10 more are pending possible discipline pending the outcome of the administrative process

Another supervisor termination is underway; and two more supervisors are pending the outcome of the administrative process

One Superintendent was demoted to Supervisor

One Assistant General Superintendent was demoted to Superintendent

One assistant superintendent separated from Metro before the review concluded

In addition to the disciplinary actions, since the derailment:

Every interlocking was inspected

Six FRA-trained outside track inspectors were embedded to improve Metro's inspection process

Metro's preventive maintenance program has been developed and addresses many of the issues raised in the NTSB report and our own reviews

Refresher training courses for track inspectors conducted by University of Tennessee faculty

Outside experts commenced systemwide condition assessment of all track (to include yards, total = 261 miles) – completion late Spring 2017.

Track inspection manual is being rewritten.

Now I will turn this over to the Chief Safety Officer to go into cause of the derailment in more detail.

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