One of the things that remained constant during my 27 years at Metro was that management — typically middle management — would periodically become hyper-focused on something that was inconsequential, while the system continued to fall apart around them.
This was sort of cyclical and often a reaction to an isolated incident. For example, the Halon fire suppression system in the Glenmont Yard (B98) train control room (TCR) was accidentally triggered by some smoke coming from a microwave oven. The microwave happened to belong to an employee, rather than WMATA. Within a day or two the proclamation came down — no more personal microwaves or coffee makers would be allowed on Metro property — well, at least not in TCRs, everywhere else was apparently ok. Why coffee makers were added to the list remains a mystery. It made no sense at all. An employee over-heated his food. Had the microwave been a WMATA issued one the same thing would likely have happened. Many TCRs were then left without a microwave or coffee maker, which simply encouraged techs to leave the property to get food and coffee. Not the best reaction on the part of management.
Uniforms were another periodic concern, although that varied from one dept to the next. For example, for a long time, many of the Shady Grove yard (A99) car maint. (CMNT) mechanics usually didn’t wear their Metro uniform. The accepted Summer attire was jeans or work pants and a solid T-shirt (no slogans or illustrations). We began to follow their lead. That was apparently ok for a couple years but then there was a big crack down — everyone in ATC (but not CMNT) was ordered to wear their uniform, even when we were at A99 and out of the public eye. One winter I was in the A99 TCR and Fady Basilly came in. Some of you may remember Basilly — he was the upper management guy who decreed that henceforth all trains would be operated in automatic, no exceptions. That order resulted in Operator Callands being killed when his train hit a parked train behind Shady Grove station (A15) during a blizzard. His train brakes weren’t working properly and he begged Central Control (OCC) to let him run manual but they said no because they were afraid of Basilly. Shortly after Callands was killed and people started asking questions Basilly moved to Greece. But I digress…he entered the TCR with a toady (complete with clipboard) and began asking questions — “Whose radio is that?” “Are those your newspapers?” “Where is your uniform?” I explained that since it was winter, whenever we went outside we wore our Metro-issued insulated orange coveralls and therefore no one could tell whether we were in uniform or not. I also told him that I didn’t have my uniforms because I was recently married and had gotten fat, and I had to turn in my uniforms to get a larger size. That got a chuckle out of him so I thought maybe I was in the clear. Then about 1/2 hour after he left I got a phone call from my supervisor telling me that I had to sign a “foreman’s report” — Basilly had told him to write me up, after laughing and smiling and shaking my hand.
The vehicles were another issue that would pop up from time to time. Usually what would trigger it was that an employee would get caught using a Metro truck for personal business. Then the memos would start flying and we’d have to fill out inspection sheets and log mileage, fuel level, etc. After a few weeks it would all be forgotten and we’d go back to just using the vehicles when we needed them without having to fill out a bunch of paperwork to drive (literally) 3 or 4 miles.
Then there were the periodic inspections. They usually resulted in a flurry of pointless activity. Cleaning and dusting TCR’s that would be covered in ‘tunnel dust’ again within days. Attempting to hide ‘unsightly’ equipment. Throwing away perfectly good parts and supplies because whoever was going to be inspecting expected every train yard to look like a nice park. It was just ridiculous.
One time, a manager riding a train saw some trash along the tracks near Fort Totten (B06) and mentioned it to his underling. Next thing we knew several of us we were told to stop what we were doing immediately and report to B06. My crew was in the middle of doing a switch obstruction PMI (preventive maint. inspection) at Glenmont (B11). A switch maint. PMI is a critical safety and reliability related PMI but somehow picking up trash was more important. It had to be done that very moment. Then, when we got there, there was very little actual trash (cans & bottles, paper, etc). There was however a bunch of Track Dept supplies — running rail, third rail covers, insulators, large busted shipping crates — nothing we could move or do anything about. Our assumption was that the manager saw the Track Dept stuff and referred to it as ‘trash’ because this is all we found — spread over a very large area:
I don’t have any problem picking up trash, I got paid no matter what, but management often had a hard time with the concept of prioritizing.
Every once in a while there would be money left over at the end of the fiscal year. We all know how that goes — use it or lose it. Sometimes there was so much money that management couldn’t spend it all on themselves, so we would get new furniture or lots of pointless OT.
Speaking of furniture, we often had ratty hand-me-down furniture but every so often we could get something nice from another dept. We had one (relatively) nice office chair that we had borrowed from the control tower. Our supervisor’s boss came into the TCR one day, saw the chair, and declared that it was too nice for us and ordered one of the techs to immediately take the chair to his office! We headed that off at the pass by calling the tower and asking them to contact the manager and let him know that it was their chair and they’d like it back.
Here is a typical piece of TCR furniture:
Note the aluminum splice under the arm.
Yep, public employees are spoiled.