Radio Problems

I recall asking the superintendent of COMM back in 1998 when the new Motorola UHF system would be fully operational. He said about 18 months. More than ten (10) years later we still did not have the new radios. Ten years! We finally got them a few months ago.

There was little to no training on how to use them. There was confusion as to which channel ATC should use to communicate with MOC (Maintenance). There were safety concerns with more than one crew using the assigned ATC channel because all of the switches are numbered the same throughout the system. A typical interlocking has four (4) switches: 1A; 1B; 3A; and 3B. So a crew at one station might request (for example) a “reverse on switch 3” and the tech at another station might hear that request and throw switch 3 reverse while a tech on the wayside has his/her hand in it. Switch machines are very powerful and can easily crush a person’s hand.

The Metro hand-held radios have never worked particularly well. Over the last few years, Metro has been switching from the original VHF system to the new UHF system. The UHF system has a lot of features like different ‘talk groups’, “trunking”, and multiple channels but unfortunately the new radios don’t work much better than the old VHF radios. The TPAS officers now have to carry two (2) radios (in addition to all of their other gear) in an attempt to get better coverage.

Also, the control towers in the yards and the blockhouses at the terminal stations – Shady Grove Yard and station (A99 and A15) in my case – still used the old radios so we had to carry both. It got kind of confusing.

The list of “dead spots” provided by WMATA is very incomplete.  It appears as though they simply rode around the system on trains, just checking reception along the tracks.  This leaves out all other areas of the stations and the wayside.

We discovered that the new UHF radios do not work in many of the TCRs (among other places). When we asked about that and pointed out that it could be a safety hazard we were told, quote:

The new radios were not designed to work in non-public areas of the system.”

Oh. Well that settles it then. I’ll just go back to my corner now. Not.

We work primarily in those “non-public areas”!

The radios MUST work in the TCRs. We rely on them for the safety of personnel on the wayside (tracks) as well as for routine communications to complete our work. If we lose communication all trains come to a halt. Nothing moves until the tech in the TCR, blockhouse, or control tower can confirm that all wayside personnel are clear for train movement. If our radios do not work that confirmation may take a while – delaying hundreds or even thousands of passengers.

For the person who was primarily responsible for testing the new radio system to blow off a serious concern about compromised communications is outrageously callous and irresponsible. My guess is that he knows that if he admits there is a problem it will reflect poorly on him.  Of course because it’s Metro he’ll probably be promoted…

The new system cost something like $60 million. That’s only about 20 cents for every man, woman, and child in America. When you think about it that way it really isn’t that much money…

Techs began using their personal cell phones to communicate but then there was the big dust-up over operators using cell phones so a blanket proclamation came down saying that no one could use cell phones. Many ATC employees were concerned about getting written up or fired and stopped using their phones which slowed our maintenance work way down. Then we were told (verbally) that using our cell phones for Metro business was ok as long as we were clear of the tracks but periodically operators would report an ATC tech for using his phone so that made things worse.  Management didn’t seem to know how to create more than one cell phone policy, or one flexible enough to allow for legitimate use while prohibiting bus drivers and train operators from using a cell phone while driving.

The radio and cell phone situation is another example of just how dysfunctional Metro is.

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This entry was posted in Inadequate Training, Malfunctions, Management Follies, Safety Incidents, The Metro Hall of Shame and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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