FTA Safety Oversight Resulting in WMATA Metrorail Improvements

By FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers

Friday the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) WMATA Safety Oversight Office released our latest in-depth investigation report to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

Special Directive 17-1 requires the transit agency to complete 47 actions to correct deficiencies in its traction power electrification (TPE) system, which is used to electrify Metrorail trains.

The special directive is based on 22 findings from an FTA investigation report into the condition and safety performance of the Metrorail TPE system, also released today.

WMATA has reported more than 70 safety events resulting from electrical arcing in its traction power system since the time FTA took over temporary safety oversight of the Metrorail system in October 2015.

These events required an emergency response, and many resulted in the partial or full shutdown of a station or off-loading of a passenger train.

(Learn More, courtesy of oversightandreform and YouTube)

There has been a steep rise in TPE system-related issues this past year, leading FTA’s investigation to focus on four categories of safety critical concerns: (1) TPE System Roles, Responsibilities, and Resources; (2) TPE Infrastructure, (3) Testing and Inspection Programs; and (4) Capital Projects.

We found: deferred maintenance, greater exposure to water and other contaminating materials, and that the safety performance of WMATA’s traction power system has deteriorated with age.

The FTA report also finds that key components of the TPE system have been compromised and are no longer performing as originally specified, and that programs to replace and upgrade critical TPE-related infrastructure have not been sufficient for the age of the system or the demand placed on it.

However, WMATA has taken a number of critical steps to address these types of problems within the last year, including nearly completing a program to ensure that its power cable connector assemblies are properly constructed and installed, enhanced its visual and thermal cable inspection program, eliminated third rail expansion joints in tunnels, and reinstated its tunnel and insulator cleaning programs.

Now, to keep the momentum going, Special Directive 17-1 directs WMATA to develop corrective action plans to address the findings of the report and related required actions. WMATA’s proposed corrective action plans are subject to FTA approval, and the FTA will monitor the agency’s progress to implement the safety improvements.


The traction power report, along with other FTA-issued investigation reports, demonstrates how the FTA is exercising the authority and enforcement tools provided by Congress to aid WMATA in addressing systemic safety deficiencies and building a strong safety culture.