Lack of Training

When I was hired in October 1983 I was handed a $1.29 yellow plastic flashlight and a very lame “safety vest” (just some orange mesh, no reflective tape) and told to watch out for trains and avoid the third rail. That was the extent of my ‘training’ until the summer of 1984. That seemed like a long time to me, but things only got worse from that point forward.

At least back then, we eventually got some training and it took place over the course of a continuous 9 week period (IIRC). In the last few years, they have all but eliminated the ATC Journeyman’s course. It has been broken up into sections and most techs hired in the last several years have only had a few of the sections. There are even supervisors who haven’t completed the Journeyman’s course!

In addition, there are no refresher courses in ATC. None. Most techs haven’t had any training since they went through the ATC Journeyman’s Course when they were first hired. In many cases that was 20+ years ago.

Periodically over the years there were a variety of courses of varying degrees of usefulness, depending upon whether the employee worked OT and where in the system they worked. For example, some of the new equipment is only installed on the newer sections of the railroad. If a person does not work OT and always works at locations that have older equipment there is little reason for them to take a course on equipment they will probably never see, let alone work on. At a minimum it is less important than a refresher course on the basics.

Other courses were about safety in ‘confined spaces’, or how to escort contractors on the wayside. Again, for an employee who does not work OT those courses are just about pointless. Their time could be better spent reviewing material from the Journeyman’s Course and/or the Metro Safety Rules & Procedures handbook (MSRPH).

Typically, the classes are scheduled for the convenience of the instructor – not the dozens or hundreds of employees who are expected to attend, who work three shifts and have different days off. Most of the time, that meant classes began bright and early at 6:30 or 7 am. OK for employees who work day shift but terrible for those who work evenings or mids.

From page 19 of the WMATA IG’s report titled, “Control Self-Assessment – Employee Safety in the Office of Track and Structures Systems Maintenance”:

COMM employees have not been trained on the Multi-Yard Parameter Security System, comprised of six major subsystems. While some COMM employees attended some training, they did not receive the schematics or system manuals training. As a result, TSSM is unable to service or repair the system, which has been inoperable in excess of three years.”

Hey Osama — c’mon down!

Page 22:

TSSM employees did not receive periodic refresher training on systems maintenance and safety. As a result, they are not able to perform their duties in a safe manner. Some new personnel, who have not been adequately trained, are required to work alone. Participants told us that there are times when training is offered, but employees are not able to attend, for example, when the training is provided only during one shift. When employees receive their training during their regular shift, too few employees are available to perform normal duties.”

And on page 23:

TTDC needs to provide refresher training for ATC to operate equipment, such as the Model 6, M3, and 55E switch machines; vital and non-vital processors; AF800, F800w, Alstom track circuits; Horton and Alstom Remote Terminal Units; and the Asco transfer panel.”

Page 24:

Some employees are moved up through the ranks and into supervisory positions without completing systems and equipment training and testing. Some supervisors and mid-level managers have not completed supervisory training but are empowered to make operational decisions. These supervisors do not have the requisite knowledge and skills related to functions performed by the mechanics and technicians for whom they are supposed to provide oversight and guidance.”

Employees who work evening shift have a schedule that is shifted at least 4 to 6 hours behind those on a regular day shift. They get off work between 10 and 11 pm, and don’t get home until 11 pm or even midnight depending upon their commute. Then, like most people, they don’t fall right into bed – they stay up for a few hours reading, watching TV, Web surfing, whatever. They may not get to bed until 3 or 4 am. For them, being forced to go to a class that starts at 6:30 or 7 am means getting at most 1 or 2 hours of sleep and then driving through rush hour traffic while sleep deprived. If they make it to the class without wrecking their car, they will almost certainly fall asleep in class – or, if they manage to stay awake, they will likely retain very little. The class will have been a waste for them. Then they have to drive home without falling asleep at the wheel. But hey, it’s convenient for the instructor.

The same goes for those on midnight shift. Their shift ends between 6 and 7 am and they are often used to going to sleep by say 9 or 10 am, if not earlier so they can be awake when their spouse and kids get home later in the day. Many of them will be nodding off in class by noon. Then they have to drive home.

My point is that ATC training should concentrate on the basics first and foremost, and it should be scheduled so that it is more convenient for the employees – that is, if management wants it to be effective, and not just for show.

Not only should the time be more convenient, so should the locations. Currently, the classes are often held at the Carmen Turner Facility (CTF). The CTF is not near a subway station and does not even have parking for employees attending classes! They are expected to drive to New Carrollton, attempt to find parking there, wait for a bus, and take the bus back to the CTF that they drove past ½ hour earlier.

What kind of public transportation agency buys a building that is not accessible via their own subway system?

Most train yards have rooms that can be used as classrooms. There is no need to jerk employees around the way they do. Sure, some courses must be held where the equipment is located, but many can be taught anywhere.

I should mention that the people I’ve known that handle the training for ATC are very good, but their dept is extremely understaffed. If WMATA is serious about rectifying the problems identified in their own IG’s report, they need to seriously beef up the SMNT training dept.

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4 Responses to Lack of Training

  1. Ted K. says:

    What about web-based SPI (self-paced instruction) modules coupled with a written test and a practical test (if applicable) ?

    That handbook you mentioned (the MSRPH) – is it hardcopy only ? How often does it get updated ?

    • Ted,

      I hate to tell you this but you would get no where in Metro. Your suggestions are too logical and rational.

      We didn’t even have computers in the Train Control Rooms (TCRs) until a few years ago — and they are old hand-me-down machines.

      SPI modules would be great, and who knows, maybe Metro will develop something like that. They would be very helpful seeing as how the training dept. is hopelessly behind. ATC has _supervisors_ who never completed the Journeyman’s Course (not to mention many techs, who have been on the job for years).

      The MSRPH is available in electronic form. I’m not sure how often it gets updated but I don’t believe it’s any more frequently than every 3 years or so. Now that it’s available on the WMATA intranet maybe it will be updated more frequently.

  2. anonymous says:

    Because of you they just hired 50+ atc techs and they are in training from 6to 2pm for 13 weeks

    • I _seriously_ doubt anything Metro does would be due to something I’ve said or written, but I appreciate the suggestion.

      If you’re willing to do so, please send me an email so we can discuss this further.

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