VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:
Two Metro workers were struck and killed early Tuesday by a large truck that was backing down the track just north of the Rockville Metrorail station, officials said.
The fatal crash — the latest in a series of incidents that have raised questions about the safety of Metrorail operations — closed the Shady Grove and Rockville stations. Investigators had cleared the tracks by late morning, and normal service resumed about 12:30 p.m.
Anthony Garland, chief safety officer for the union that represents most Metro employees, said a communication problem appears to have happened between the department in charge of the truck on the track and the Automatic Train Control department, whose technicians were installing new train control equipment in the track bed.
The operator of the truck, known as a high-rail vehicle, was maneuvering it backward down the track, according to Garland, when it hit technicians Jeff Garrard, 49, of Clarksburg, and Sung Duk Oh, 68, of Montgomery Village. Garrard and Oh were installing equipment on the tracks to enable trains to communicate with one another and with headquarters, officials said.
“We want to know why there wasn’t better communication out there,” said Garland, of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 689, after being briefed on the crash.
Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the truck does not emit a beeping noise when it travels backward on rails, though it does when driving in reverse on a roadway.
The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a formal investigation into the crash — an indication of the seriousness of the accident, since the agency does not always take the lead role in probing rail fatalities.
Garrard had worked for Metro since 1990, officials said, and Oh since 1998.
“It’s very tough for us to swallow as well,” Farbstein said. “It’s unspeakable. . . . Our hearts go out to the families of the individuals who are deceased.”
She said four members of the work crew were taken off duty to undergo drug and alcohol testing and to be interviewed.
Peter Benjamin, a Metro board member who is slated to become chairman Thursday, called the crash “a horrible situation. I can’t believe that it happened,” he said.
There was no train service at the Shady Grove or Rockville stations Tuesday morning; instead, inbound trains originated at Twinbrook, and outbound trains ended their routes at the Twinbrook station. Thirty shuttle buses moved customers to and from the closed stations, but the buses cannot handle the normal volume of passengers, so the morning rush involved lines and long waits.
By 8:30 a.m., the parking lots at the Twinbrook station were almost completely full, because many commuters who would have normally gone to Shady Grove or Rockville drove there instead. At Shady Grove, commuters waiting for buses complained about the disruption and also voiced strong concern about the string of Metro collisions and fatalities since June.
“Let me tell you something — I’m scared to ride the subway. It’s fearful,” said Mary Williams, 45, of Gaithersburg, who was waiting for a bus to take her to classes at Montgomery College. “Metro is totally inconsistent. They should have some type of safety put forth for their workers.”
The section of track where the men were struck is parallel to Hungerford Drive (the extension of Route 355 after the Rockville Pike ends), at Mannakee Street. One northbound lane of Hungerford Drive was closed Tuesday morning near the crash site, officials said, to accommodate emergency equipment.
After the crash, Garrard was pronounced dead at the scene. Oh was taken to Suburban Hospital, where he later died, officials said. The operator of the high-rail vehicle was not injured. The vehicle is essentially a pickup truck, configured with special wheels that allow it to drive on the track when the electricity that usually powers trains is turned off, officials said. The truck runs on gasoline and typically carries gear and equipment for workers on the tracks.
The Metro system has suffered a series of fatalities and serious incidents over the past eight months, leading to management shakeups and questions about whether proper safety procedures are in place. On Jan. 14, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said he would step down from his job in April to give the agency a fresh start.
The incidents include a train operator crashing his train into several parked trains at the West Falls Church rail yard Nov. 29, injuring three workers and causing $9 million in damage; an August incident at the same rail yard in which two mechanics were hurt when a two-car train struck the rail cars they were working on; a piece of track equipment striking and killing a Metro worker on the Orange Line on Aug. 9; a worker fatally injured by a train between the Braddock Road and Reagan National Airport stations Sept. 10; and the electrocution of a subcontractor working in a Metro bus garage Aug. 18.
On June 22, nine people were killed and scores were injured when an inbound Metro train crashed into a stationary train north of the Fort Totten Station on the Red Line — the deadliest incident in the rail system’s 34-year history.
The Post has since reported systemwide problems in train control technology and safety oversight. Internal records showed that the supposedly fail-safe crash-avoidance system had failed three months before June’s crash, allowing two trains to come “dangerously close” to colliding. Records showed that the system also had failed in 2005, when three trains narrowly averted “disastrous collisions.”
Other records showed that Metro’s decision, made after the crash, to sandwich older subway cars between newer, sturdier ones had not been supported by its own engineering studies and appeared to be a public relations move.
The Post also reported that Metro had quietly barred safety monitors from walking along its live tracks to assess Metro’s compliance with its own safety rules. During the ban, two workers were hit on the tracks and fatally injured. Days after inspectors were given renewed access to live tracks, a team of safety monitors was nearly hit by a Metro train.
A Post analysis of safety data showed that more than 100 safety flaws identified after audits, accidents and other incidents languished unfixed, some for five years.
“There’s clearly a major issue on the culture of safety at Metro that we have to do something about,” said Benjamin, the incoming board chairman. “It’s very important that we focus on the culture of safety, as well as on the equipment and the system.”
Metro’s safety became a focus of at least three hearings on Capitol Hill. In December, four top managers were reassigned to lesser posts or left the agency in what amounted to a major management shakeup, and the Obama administration referred to Metro in calling for federal control of safety regulation of subways and light-rail systems nationwide.
The NTSB is already conducting full-scale investigations of the June 22 crash and the November accident at the West Falls Church rail yard. The agency said Stephen Klejst has been named the lead investigator of the probe into Tuesday’s incident.
On Sunday, Obama officials said they were rushing the appointment of two federal representatives to serve as new members of Metro’s board of directors, in an effort to quickly strengthen oversight of the agency. The board’s next scheduled meeting is Thursday.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who serves on the Metro board and is ending his term as chairman on Thursday, said “it’s critical to get the right leadership” in place at the agency in order for operations to improve.
“We have great sympathy for the loss and will do everything we can to help the families,” Graham said. “Something went very wrong this morning.”