WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Today was the day Metro leaders finally addressed how it could possibly be that intercoms in hundreds of cars carrying thousands of passengers may have been inoperable for as many as seven years.
It's tough to grasp the reality that if someone was robbing you or, let's say, having a heart attack next to you on a Metro train, that odds could be against you that anyone would hear your cries if you used Metro's intercoms. It's also tough to get your head around the fact that this could have been the case ever since 2006, when the 6000 series cars were introduced.
In June Metro's General Manager Richard Sarles said, "The important thing is to face the problem when you see it and try to address it."
Then, why if Metro admitted in this 2009 press release that "sometimes the intercoms ......do not always function," did they not address it sooner?
WUSA9 asked Sarles in late June when we first learned of the widespread failure.
"With all due respect people are talking about the intercom issues. I asked for and I'm going to have a review by our chief safety officer, of everything that went on to determine whether we had brought things forth in a timely fashion as we could have. Seems like we knew about these issues for a while. That's part of the review to see if everything that's factored into that so we can come to a conclusion and see where we can improve."
WUSA9 asked if he is happy with how they handled this?
"I'll tell you that when we're done with review."
Now that they are done, this is what Sarles says now, "I have not completed the review entirely certainly I'm not happy any time that anything that we provide the customer doesn't work"
Also seemingly unhappy are members of the Safety and Security Committee. Just to go back, Metro implemented a workaround in June to fix the intercom issue that stemmed from when a 1000 or 4000 series car followed a 6000 series lead car. Sarles says Metro in 2009 was a very different transit agency, coming off the June crash that killed 9 and hurt 80, the focus was on NTSB's safety recommendations.
"The focus at that time was on the most safety critical items with regard to the car," said Sarles.
Mort Downey, Chair Safety & Security Commitee said,"I can agree that it might be a lower priority than other things that we had to deal with but in effect from our standpoint, but I didn't know it was supposed to be dealt with."
It is that lack of accountability that some find troubling. It took until this past April to attack the problem head on. That's 4 years since Metro put it in writing.
James Benton said, "Since then they have constantly kept us updated on the progress they've made on the passenger intercoms so I do believe the culture has changed and is continuing to change to improve."
But some say then was then, and this is now.
Permanent fixes have been completed for the intercom issues for the 6000/1000 series problem. As far as the 4000/1000 issue, a permanent fix is still as many as 2 ½ to 3 months away.
A full-scale audit program is supposed to be underway in August.