Train's Operator Faulted in Fatal Metro Accident

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007

The operator of the Yellow Line train that struck and killed two Metro employees last year has been permanently barred from driving a train or bus after a preliminary investigation by the transit agency found that she did not use appropriate emergency braking procedures, officials said yesterday.

Metro's operating protocol requires train operators to sound their horns when workers are on the tracks, and for workers to respond with manual hand signals before trains proceed. Without the hand signals, the operator is supposed to "stop, stay where [they] are, and contact the control center for direction," said Steve Feil, chief operating officer for trains.

"Based on the information we have so far, we have enough reason to think that her actions were inconsistent with the operating protocol," Feil said.

The train operator, who is on leave and receiving workers compensation, has been a Metro employee since 1999 and a train operator since 2001. Metro officials did not release her name, citing privacy laws.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, which is also conducting an investigation, have said the train's event recorder indicated that the empty four-car train was traveling at 39 mph and that the operator sounded her horn twice before applying the brakes.

The two workers, Leslie Arvell Cherry, 52, of Clinton and Matthew Brooks, 36, of Waldorf were performing routine track inspection when they were hit from behind near the Eisenhower Avenue Station in Alexandria on Nov. 30.

The accident was Metro's third fatal incident involving an employee and one of its trains in a little more than a year. Federal investigators reenacted the accident to determine where the operator would have seen the employees, and whether the workers would have been able to hear the horn from where the train event recorder said it was sounded.

The NTSB, which is not expected to complete its investigation for several months, is reviewing recordings and transcripts of radio conversations between the operator and dispatchers. Video from a platform security camera that shows the accident is being enhanced.

After the accident, Metro officials announced that track inspections could take place only between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when fewer trains are running. Inspectors are also now required to tell operators their locations, and trains will be instructed to slow to less than 20 mph when they are within 600 feet of inspectors. Trains are also not allowed to pass until they receive a signal from track inspectors to do so.

Separate procedures were established for locations where trains share a single track, as they were doing when the accident occurred, or where views are obstructed. In those instances, flagmen are to alert train operators that workers are in the area.

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