Double Derailment at Bethesda was Completely Avoidable

Almost exactly two years ago, on March 27, 2009, at approximately 4:30 pm a train derailed on the inbound track (track #1) between Bethesda (A09) and Friendship Heights (A08).  In response, Metro dispatched a “rescue train” (train #204) from Shady Grove Yard (A99) to pull the disabled train (#125) back to A99.  In the course of attempting to couple to the disabled train, the operator of the rescue train failed to notice that the cause of the derailment was broken rail, and the rescue train also derailed.

Train #125 had 84 passengers on board.  Luckily, no one was hurt.  Apparently they just got jostled around a bit, but they were then stuck on the train until a second rescue train could be brought in from the opposite direction and pull #125 down to A08.  In addition, a third rescue train had to be brought in to rescue #204.

The repair work took days and caused huge delays as trains had to ‘single track’ (share track #2) between A08 and Medical Center (A10).  A Metro spokesman recommended finding “a different mode of transportation”.

Most of the above was reported in the local media.  What the public and various agencies were _not_ told was that the entire fiasco, both derailments, were completely avoidable.  The area in question had (and likely still has) a lot of corrosion from leaks in the tunnel.  I’ve heard that when Metro was constructed it was recommended that a waterproof liner of some sort be used but that idea was shot down.  It’s the kind of thing that can only be done during construction so, too late now.  In any case, a couple of my coworkers noticed that the rail and associated hardware was severely corroded.  One of them told me that there was _nothing_ holding the rail to the plates (the plates are bolted to the concrete) for 20 to 30 foot stretches.  The Pandrol clips that secure the rail were either completely gone or corroded to the point of being completely useless.

My coworkers immediately reported what they had found to Maintenance Control (MOC) and a “work order” (W/O) was opened.

Several weeks went by and my coworkers noticed that nothing had been done.  I can’t recall if the W/O was ignored or closed but either way, the work wasn’t done.  In fact, I believe I was told that the W/O was closed without Track Dept. even doing an inspection!

ATC techs are not trained to inspect track — the running rails and related equipment.  We _are_ expected to report anything we find that may be a safety or reliability concern.  Sometimes, techs would report something they thought might be unsafe only to have Track Dept. say it it was fine.  We weren’t in the habit of reporting every little discrepancy though — if we opened a W/O it was because something required prompt attention.

The above was of course common knowledge within ATC, including the supervisors.  To my knowledge though, nothing happened.  There was no inquiry, no repercussions for those who purposely closed the W/O without so much as a quick look (the damaged track was within a few hundred feet of the A09 platform).

This sort of behavior should be punished severely but instead the attitude is,  “Oh well, mistakes were made.  Another day, another derailment.”  That’s what happens when the fox watches the hen house.

To be fair, sometimes accidents are unavoidable.  There are sometimes equipment failures that could not have been foreseen.  In this case, those derailments were due to pure negligence.

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