Sen. Warner calls for renewed focus on improving WMATA radio communications

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Following the derailment of a train in downtown Washington, U.S Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) called on Friday for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to address lingering radio communications issues that emerged after the derailment.

The cause of the derailment is not yet known. WMATA officials, however, confirmed that issues with radio communications delayed rail controllers’ ability to identifying the derailment, and it was initially reported as a smoke in a tunnel. Passenger evacuations did not begin for nearly an hour.

Following a fatal smoke incident near the L’Enfant Plaza station in January 2015, Warner called for upgrades to WMATA’s public safety radio network to address interoperability issues and “spotty” coverage in a letter to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

“Although progress has been made in some respects, (the Jan. 15) train derailment and related radio communications problems serve as a stark reminder that WMATA needs to renew its focus and prioritize fixing any remaining radio communications problems,” Warner wrote.“Despite years of work on this issue and millions of dollars invested, the continued problems with this network are simply unacceptable.”

Warner also referenced media reports of “ghost trains,” poorly maintained cables, and issues going unaddressed months after they were reported.

“…Our region’s commuters, WMATA’s train operators, and local law enforcement officers deserve better than to be forced to deal with ‘spotty’ radio coverage that could jeopardize lives in the case of an accident or incident underground,” Warner added. “For these reasons, I ask that WMATA provide me with an update on current efforts to sufficiently and effectively maintain the underground radio communication network.”