Correction to This Article
This article credited an incorrect D.C. television station with first reporting that video footage apparently showed a Metrorail operator text messaging while his train sped along the tracks. WJLA-TV (Channel 7) was first with that news, not WUSA-TV (Channel 9).

Metrorail Operator Disciplined After Texting Incident

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Metro train operator has been disciplined after video footage showed him apparently text messaging while his train sped along the tracks, authorities said.

The operator was suspended for a week without pay after the June 5 incident came to the attention of officials, Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said last night.

"I think he got the message loud and clear," she said. "I think it's unlikely he'll repeat."

The Metro system is highly automated, and trains can run in normal service without action from the train operator. However, Farbstein said, operators "need to pay attention."

Operators are prohibited from texting or using cellphones while operating Metro vehicles, she said.

No injuries or damage resulted from the incident, which a passenger apparently recorded with a cellphone camera while on the Blue Line between the King Street and Van Dorn Street stations in Alexandria.

The passenger posted video images online and said in accompanying text that the train operator appeared to be asleep but actually was holding a text-messaging device between his legs.

Although the train was under automatic control at about 3:55 p.m., the passenger wrote, "no one is watching out for what is in front of" it.

The stretch between the stations is about 4.5 miles, one of the longest in the system, and speeds can reach 59 mph.

Farbstein said Metro officials were not made aware of the apparent texting incident until after the June 22 crash on the Red Line in which nine people died and scores were injured.

Metro acted immediately when the matter came to officials' attention, Farbstein said, and the operator has already served the suspension. It was first reported by WUSA-TV (Channel 9).

No evidence has been found that the operator who died in the Red Line crash was texting. Her cellphone was found in her backpack.

However, the issue of text messaging was raised in a train crash in California in September. Federal investigators have said that a commuter train operator sent a message less than a minute before a collision near Los Angeles that killed 25 people.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company