Inspections and Examinations

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Safety Management Inspection

By: Jim Caton & Andrew Lofton

Project Overview

As transit industry consultants, we have been involved in many major projects with wide-reaching results. In 2015, we worked with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to conduct a Safety Management Inspection (SMI) of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) rail and bus transit systems. The purpose of the inspection was to evaluate the condition of WMATA’s maintenance programs, safety management capabilities, and general organizational structures.

WMATA provides service to approximately 85 percent of the capital region’s population— roughly 5 million people. Due to WMATA’s large service area and several severe rail accidents — notably the 2009 Metrorail train collision (resulting in 8 deaths and 52 injuries) and the 2015 electrical arcing incident (resulting in 1 death and 90 injuries) — FTA decided to reevaluate WMATA’s bus and rail operations.

Our Role

We served as the primary consultant on the WMATA SMI project and led teams of experts to carry out an extensive review and analysis of WMATA’s systems and procedures.

From March 16 to April 3, team members

  • Made field inspections,
  • Reviewed policies and procedures,
  • Interviewed over 300 WMATA employees,
  • Attended WMATA safety committee meetings,
  • Assessed the tools and systems being used by WMATA employees, and
  • Monitored the quality of work being exhibited on premises.

SMI Results

The SMI revealed major gaps in WMATA’s operational and organizational structures that created a variety of operational and safety concerns. The inspection also indicated that work crews did not have sufficient right-of-way (ROW) rail access and were not able to perform the inspections or maintenance activities vital to mitigating potential safety hazards and events.

In response to these discoveries, FTA issued their findings and Safety Directive 15-1 to WMATA to ensure that they would make the necessary changes. Additionally, FTA held monthly meetings with WMATA and routinely reviewed and gave or withheld approval of WMATA’s work plans. We supported FTA throughout this process.


Throughout the WMATA SMI project, we were able to exercise our broad knowledge of the transit industry to spot problems and build solutions to improve areas of transit safety and overall system operation.

For more information, see the WMATA inspection reports (through March 2019), available on the FTA WMATA Metrorail Safety Oversight Monthly Inspection Reports web page.