Repairs were carried out poorly or not at all and safety systems were tampered with to cover up malfunctions, according to investigators, who warned of “an alarming state of danger for public safety” on the capital's underground network.
Four people were detained this week as part of the inquiry, it was announced at a press conference on Thursday, while another 11 are under investigation. Three of those held are managers at Rome's public transport company, Atac, while one is the director of a private company, Metroroma, contracted to maintain the metro system's escalators.
The investigation comes after an incident at the Repubblica metro station last October, when a malfunction caused a moving escalator suddenly to speed up, injuring more than 20 passengers.
The broken escalator at Repubblica. Photo: Vigili Del Fuoco/AFP
In the six months that followed, escalators at both Policlinico and Barberini station broke down, with metal steps alarmingly coming away from their fixtures.
Inspections revealed that the emergency brake at Repubblica had been rigged with plastic ties and a system to report faults interfered with, preventing errors being properly logged. There was evidence of similar tampering at Barberini, where contractors were found to have fraudulently reported maintenance work, covering up the true state of disrepair.
Both stations, located next to each other on the main Line A running through the centre of Rome, were closed for emergency repairs lasting several months. Repubblica eventually reopened after eight months, while Barberini remains closed and is not set to reopen until at least December.
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Some 65 walkways on the Lines A and B are currently out of action, according to Rome newspaper Il Messagero.
Out of a total of 700 escalators across the capital's subway network, “looking at the probability… another three or four would have collapsed by now”, one of the Atac directors detained told a colleague, according to investigators.
“You should see the things that have been found,” the same person reportedly told another associate in reference to escalator safety checks. “I'll show you things that will frighten you.”
Further malfunctions cannot be ruled out, pre-trial investigating judge Massimo Di Lauro told reporters, who said the inquiry had found evidence of a “total disregard for safety”.
The city council has since cancelled its maintenance contract with Metroroma, commented Rome's mayor Virginia Raggi, who promised that those responsible would be made to pay.