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Transit union says more work needed to fix Baltimore's Metro safety problems

The local transit union called for an emergency shutdown of the Baltimore Metro subway and blasted Maryland Transit Administration officials for neglecting serious safety and health issues at a Thursday news conference. (Video by Andrew Dunn/Baltimore Sun)

Transit union leaders said Thursday that plans to fix the Baltimore Metro fall short of addressing major safety and health concerns that put riders and workers at risk, and called for an emergency shutdown of the system.

David McClure, president of Baltimore Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300, said the Maryland Transit Administration has neglected the main problems his workers have raised, despite this week's announcement of a 23-day partial shutdown while the agency performs $16 million in critical maintenance.

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"This is not only about the union, it's about the riding public as well," McClure said. "We have one objective here, and that's to provide a safe and efficient service to the riding public, which at this point, I can't say that we're actually doing that."

MTA officials said safety is their top priority. In a statement, the agency said nearly $670 million was spent in the past year on planned safety upgrades. Of that total, $600 million was spent on 90 new subway cars and a new signaling system.

"We take every step to ensure our customers and employees are safe on our system," the agency said.

McClure said a dangerous smoke incident or a fire could be "very likely" if problems such as electrical hazards are not addressed. When asked about an emergency subway shutdown, he said that is the type of action he would seek.

"That's what needs to happen," McClure said at a news conference. "It needs to happen."

The 2,700-member union released photos from a June 17 walk-through of the Mondawmin Metro station with MTA safety officials that appeared to show unsafe conditions and poor maintenance.

Brian Sherlock, a worker safety specialist for the national transit union, said he observed decades of neglect when he toured the station.

"It doesn't get much worse," Sherlock said.

The union said the photos show high-voltage rat traps in public places where people could touch them, outdated and decomposing smoke detectors, exposed live wires, wet floors, a defective ventilation system, rusting pipes and substandard fire extinguishers.

The MTA said many of the problems described by the union have been corrected. Spokeswoman Sandy Arnette said the agency has not seen the pictures.

Sherlock said the visit reminded him of the Washington Metro system. A smoke-filled train in the D.C. system killed one woman and left more than 80 passengers with respiratory problems in January 2015. He said a similar event could happen in Baltimore.

McClure said workers have told him in recent months about poor conditions.

"I feel guilty myself right now because I'm allowing my members to go into a deplorable situation that they should not have to be going into," McClure said.

McClure said he questioned whether MTA officials were taking the situation seriously after months of rescheduled and canceled meetings.

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The MTA said its leadership team meets "regularly" with employees to discuss their concerns.

The union has met with state and city lawmakers recently to discuss the possibility of legislation to address the problems.

The MTA repairs are scheduled to begin July 22 and run through Aug. 14. The agency will shut down service between Mondawmin Mall and Milford Mill; shuttle buses will be available as a temporary substitute for riders.

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