Train Operator Put on Leave After Doors Were Opened on Wrong Side of Platform

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Metro train operator who opened the doors Thursday night on the wrong side of the platform at the Waterfront Station on the Green Line has been put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, an agency official said Friday. There were no injuries in the incident.

Passenger Chester Joy, 62, riding the Metro home at 7:55 p.m., was standing on the platform side of the six-car train when the doors on the other side opened, above a narrow catwalk and the third rail.

"All of a sudden I'm looking out at the wall," said Joy, of the District, who had been out with his wife celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary. "Holy mackerel."

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the operator -- whom he declined to name -- took a drug and alcohol test after a station manager contacted the operations control center to report complaints from riders. Following standard procedure, investigators in Metro's rail division will examine the details of the incident and the operator's safety record to determine how he should be disciplined. Officials said the employee was hired in October 2005 and began operating trains in January 2008.

"He probably hit something by accident," Taubenkibel said.

Thursday's incident was the third time this year that a train opened its doors on the opposite side of the platform, Taubenkibel said. Last year, it happened six times.

Metro has struggled this year with operators opening doors too soon. From March to May, doors opened 17 times before all the cars reached the station platform. All but three of those incidents involved eight-car trains that were not properly berthed.

Since April 2008, Metro operators have opened train doors manually. An automatic train control system previously relayed electronic commands from a signaling system in the track infrastructure. When electromagnetic interference from upgrades to power substations caused doors to open on the wrong side four times in 100 days, officials instructed operators to manually open them.

Since stations alternate between left, right and center platforms, there are many opportunities for error. On average, doors open on Metro trains more than 200,000 times a day.

Joy worries that several people could have fallen out of the train at the Waterfront Station if the mishap had occurred at a different time.

"If it happened two or three hours earlier, when that car was absolutely jampacked at rush hour," he said, "the likelihood of significant injury would have gone up significantly."

Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

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