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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Angered Metro Drivers Go on Work-to-Rule

Metro drivers, saying their supervisors pressure them to drive unsafe trains to stay on schedule, are staging a work-to-rule protest, causing long delays on the heavily trafficked gray line.

The protest, which started Monday, followed three accidents on the line within 15 hours last week that injured 26 people. Metro officials blamed the drivers.

Drivers and one supervisor said Tuesday that trains failing to meet safety standards were routinely sent out onto the tracks.

Union leaders say faulty equipment caused at least one of the accidents.

Following the rules literally Monday from 1:30 P.M. to protest criticism by Nikolai Torubarov, chief traffic safety inspector for the metro, drivers at the gray line's northern depot took 13 of the depot's 33 trains out of service for repair. The action caused three- to 10-minute delays all day, according to Svetlana Razina, a union leader.

"If we did everything the way we are supposed to, half of our trains would not go out," said Sergei Kasadochkin, a supervisor on the gray line who acknowledged permitting the use of unsafe trains on one of the city's busiest routes.

"We have continual shortages of spare parts and mechanics. We take a part out of one wagon and put it in another, to solve a big problem by creating a small problem. That way we keep everything running -- at our own risk."

Razina said that on the contrary, "it is the drivers who bear the entire responsibility. The supervisors are covering for themselves.

"Of course, the drivers are wrong to take out faulty trains. But the administration bears just as much responsibility," she said.

Supervisors push drivers to send out poor trains in order to win pay bonuses for sticking perfectly to schedule, Razina said, especially on the heavily trafficked gray line. There are fewer accidents on lines where drivers have united to resist the pressure, she said.

A Moscow government report dated Feb. 22 criticized the metro for "the use of faulty trains, which can lead to a dangerous situation."

Several gray line administrators Tuesday refused to comment or were not available. Torubarov called both equipment failure and the use of faulty equipment "impossible."

The fabled efficiency and safety of the metro, long a source of Soviet pride rivalling the space program, has suffered from shrinking budgets and increased ridership.

Last week's metro accidents, which injured 26, were the first serious ones since an escalator collapsed in 1982, killing over 20 people.

The metro administration still sports some of the trappings of Soviet bureaucracies which sacrificed quality for the appearance of "fulfilling the plan." In its Prospekt Mira building, a sign in the lobby flashes dubious statistics: "Fulfillment of transportation plans, Kalininskaya line: 104.99%."

Drivers say the pressure is never direct. Alexei Zhukov, a first-year drive, said drivers often ignored problems out of fear of supervisors.

"For example, I'm driving, one of my cars is broken but the rest are fine. I say, 'Well, okay, let's go. It's one wagon, to hell with it," he said.

Torubarov, the metro safety chief, blamed drivers who rear-ended other trains in two of the accidents for illegally driving with automatic brakes switched off.

According to Razina, the driver in Wednesday evening's accident switched his off after they malfunctioned, stopping his train.

Kasadochkin, the gray-line supervisor said in another rear-ending Thursday morning, the system might have been at fault.

Metro workers have been warning for months that the low pay and long shifts could have dangerous consequences.