Veteran Metro Worker Killed in Track Accident

By James Hohmann and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, August 10, 2009; 5:11 PM

Metro officials are still trying to determine whether an accident on the Orange Line that killed a 63-year-old Metro employee Sunday night was caused by mechanical failure or human error, a spokesman said Monday afternoon.

The incident occurred about 9:50 p.m. during scheduled track maintenance near the Vienna Metro station in Fairfax County. Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said that the incident happened along the above-ground stretch of the Orange Line alongside Interstate 66. "That's all still being looked at right now," Taubenkibel said. "We're still in the early stages of our investigation."

Silver Spring resident Michael Nash, a Metro employee for 21 years, had been a track repairman since 1990, officials said.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said during a news conference that Nash was a spotter, responsible for removing gravel from circuits or boards in the track bed. He was working with a crew of 10 to 15 people who were replacing crossties when he was hit by a manned ballast regulator, a piece of equipment that rides on the rails, Metro officials said. The equipment deposits and spreads the stone or gravel known as ballast upon which the crossties and rails rest, particularly in outdoor parts of the system. The ballast provides drainage and stability.

"Was there something that distracted our employee or what?" Catoe said. "Again, we're not sure until we've conducted our investigation."

Catoe said that the operator of the ballast regulator had a trainee in the cab with him at the time of the accident, but the trainee was not operating the equipment, and the driver had no safety violations on his record.

Taubenkibel said that the crew at the site underwent drug and alcohol testing after the accident, which occurred along the outbound track between the Dunn Loring and Vienna stations. The ballast regulator was moving about 5 to 10 mph when the accident occurred, Catoe said.

"All of us are terribly saddened," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to [Nash's] family."

The National Transportation Safety Board decided Monday not to conduct an investigation into the accident, according to spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz. Safety experts from the federal board met with Metro officials, who briefed them on the accident.

"Based on that, we don't feel that's a matter for us to investigate," he said. "It does not involve issues of train protection or crewmember protection from trains. So we're not going to get into it."

The track maintenance project between the stations began Friday night and was scheduled to run until early Monday morning.

Sunday night's accident came at a time of heightened concern about safety on the rail system. The death was the second this year of a Metro employee in an accident on the rail line. The first was that of a train operator who was killed in the June 22 crash on the Red Line. Eight passengers died in that crash. The NTSB is investigating that accident.

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