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Apr 20

New ‘Alerter’ Armbands No Substitute for Real Flagging Protection on Metro tracks

The high-tech alerter devices being tested by Metro are no substitute for adequate flagger protection for track workers and inspectors says the Amalgamated Transit Union International.

Last October, FRA investigators were almost killed in a "near miss" incident involving passing trains as they scrambled, almost too late, to get out of the way. Multiple incidents also occurred on six separate days last July and August.

“The so-called alerter armband devices now being tested by WMATA – designed to be worn by track workers assigned to look out for approaching trains - do not offer anything near the protection that would have precluded these ‘near misses’ or ‘close calls,” says ATU International President Larry Hanley.

“These armbands are designed and intended as secondary warning devices, which assume that an appropriate PRIMARY system is in place to protect employees on the tracks, which is far from the case at WMATA where crews are given a vest, a watch person with a whistle and/or air horn, and sent out to dodge trains moving at up to 50 miles per hour and also through work zones.” 

Designed for outside railroads with long lines-of-sight and long curves, where work is typically performed during daylight hours, these alerter devices might provide early warning as an adequate buffer. However, flagging systems are wholly inadequate for inner city railroads such as the WMATA system – a work environment of tunnels, subways and sharp curves where traffic is far more frequent, work is underground and most often not exposed to daylight. 

An adequate primary flagging system in an inner-city railroad like WMATA must provide “positive” protection to warn, slow and hold approaching trains until all employees are determined to be clear of oncoming trains.

“WMATA’s current flagging system depends on hope and good luck to protect track workers.  It's that deadly WMATA combination which recently almost took the lives of trained and qualified FRA track experts walking WMATA's tracks under protection,” Hanley continued. “But it is precisely such conditions which WMATA's own track workers, inspectors, and signal and power personnel have long been required to work under on a daily basis.

“For these workers, routine work involves the art of survival, thanks to WMATA.  Ironically, in the name of safety, WMATA has been firing track Inspectors by the dozens of late. Track inspection in particular, involves work of an engrossing nature whose constant companion, under the current system, is threat to life and limb,” Hanley says. “If WMATA continues the reckless flagging practices to which it subjects its employees, there will be more close calls, serious injuries and even death at WMATA’s hands.”