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Metro’s Last Straw: Time For Receivership

At the risk of sounding like The Donald, you’re fired –- top to bottom, all of you: out the door!

As regular readers of DC’s newspapers and on-line missives and regular viewers of the local TV news no doubt know without us stating the reason underlying our pronouncement above, this “last straw” is all about the very recent derailment at the beginning of the morning rush hour Smithsonian of –- fortunately –- an empty train.

This derailment was caused by what is known in railroad circles as a track wide gauge flaw, the result being that the rails will have slipped out of alignment so that a train’s wheels no longer are in contact with those rails.

The scandal here is that although this very serious defect was discovered over a month ago no action was taken to perform an immediate repair. This condition is considered by the industry to be of such seriousness that when detected it is accepted practice to close down the affected track section without a moments delay.

Just the day before we sat down to write this commentary, the Metro board went on record stating that the one-month delay before taking action to repair the defect was an “unforgivable breach of safety [and was] outraged and dismayed that anyone working at Metro would have critical safety information and not act on it immediately.”

And, we might add, that the board could have driven its point home even more so by noting the probability that nothing would have been done but for the derailment that occurred on August 6th and if there had not been the derailment of the empty train nobody at Metro would have done a thing until a passenger-loaded train would have derailed at some later date.

This seems to be the culture at Metro: don’t fix known (or should have been known) dangerous conditions, as back in January, until passengers are injured and/or killed. Early this year we strongly condemned the incompetence that surrounded that disaster in an editorial titled “The Recent Metro Mess Must Now be the End” – not surprisingly, however, it clearly was not the end!

According to a Washington Post article of August 12th, “Many observers blame Metro’s myriad problems on its lack of permanent leadership. The agency has been without a general manager since Richard Sarles retired in January, and efforts to hire a replacement have been hampered by in-fighting among board members.”

While the Post doesn’t identify these “many observers,” we seem to recall that Metro biggies have made this excuse previously. We do not buy it. Yes, there is no permanent GM, but that does not absolve the acting GM and all his many minions from the top down through middle management to the lowest grunt who actually walks the tracks from taking action.

We repeat, it’s a long-time culture thing with Metro -– passing the buck, not making waves, and worse.

There is only the one solution which is that the U.S. Department of Transportation has to be given the authority to assume a temporary receivership and place in key positions respected & highly competent –- probably from outside DC and environs –- to come in and clean house. That means firing all who are identified as slackers (and we suspect those persons are well known), filling those positions –- even those at the lower end –- with deserving and truly competent persons, based not on seniority or who is buddy with whom.

Only by starting all over as we suggest can Metro even begin to restore its operation to one of high competence and high regard and trust among the riding public.