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FTA orders WMATA to fix 'deteriorated' traction power system

In early May, WMATA experienced an electrical arcing incident at the Federal Center SW Station.
Photo – FTA

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on Friday ordered the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to address deficiencies in its traction power electrification system.

The special directive requires WMATA to complete 47 actions related to the system, which the FTA said was in a "deteriorated condition."

The directive is included in an FTA report on its findings into WMATA's traction power system. FTA investigators found that the system "has deteriorated with age, deferred maintenance and increased exposure to water and moisture with contaminating materials."

What's more, the presence of mud and standing water in the trackbed has been a "recurrent factor" in many of the arcing and fire incidents at WMATA over the past year.

In a number of inspections and investigations into WMATA's track conditions, the FTA found that track and tunnel drainage defects haven't been adequately identified and prioritized for repair, allowing cables and connectors laying in or near the trackbed to become encased in mud, water and other contaminants.

Although WMATA has taken several steps toward creating a new traction power maintenance department and establishing a new cable inspection program, the agency still doesn't have sufficient personnel to complete required preventive and corrective maintenance, the report stated.

"The safe operation of Metrorail service is directly dependent on WMATA implementing corrective actions to reduce and eliminate electrical arcing events that have too often resulted in smoke and fire, which can endanger passenger safety," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release. "WMATA has already started to address these issues, and the FTA report and special directive will help WMATA prioritize what it must do to improve its traction power system to keep the trains running safely."

As part of the special directive, the FTA ordered WMATA to develop and provide traction power electrification system "awareness training" for employees at its rail and maintenance operation centers. In addition, the transit agency needs to establish a program for cleaning and drying contaminated power cables.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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