Metro Orders Safety Training for Employees After Track Worker Is Killed

A gravel spreader like this one was involved in a fatal Metro accident.
A gravel spreader like this one was involved in a fatal Metro accident. (Courtesy Of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority)
By Lisa Rein and James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Metro ordered mandatory safety training for field workers and suspended some planned maintenance work Monday after a track repairman was struck and killed Sunday night by a machine spreading gravel on the Orange Line.

Metro will also increase inspections at work sites across the system, Metro officials said, as they confronted the second fatal accident in seven weeks.

"Something obviously went terribly wrong," Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said after announcing the "safety stand-down."

The accident Sunday occurred at a time of heightened concern about safety on the rail system, after nine people died and 80 were injured in a crash June 22 on the Red Line. Federal investigators are examining problems with track circuits as a possible cause of the crash.

Metro officials identified the victim of Sunday's accident as Michael Nash, 63, of Silver Spring, a track repairman since 1990. Nash was working with 10 to 15 people replacing crossties along the outbound track between the Vienna and Dunn Loring stations along Interstate 66 when a machine called a ballast regulator struck him about 9:50 p.m. Nash was a spotter, whose job is to remove gravel from circuits or boards in the track bed.

The machine, which resembles a small truck, rides the rails to spread stones to fill in the track bed. Once the stones are down, workers can lay crossties between the rails. The ballast provides drainage and stability.

Metro officials said they had not determined what caused the accident. The operator of the ballast regulator had a trainee in the cab with him, but the trainee was not operating the equipment, Catoe said. The ballast regulator was moving at 5 to 10 mph, he said.

"The equipment was working fine," Catoe said during a news conference Monday afternoon. He said the driver had no safety violations.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the crew at the site underwent drug and alcohol testing early Monday. Nash was about halfway through a 10-hour shift when he was killed, officials said.

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

In addition to the mandatory safety training, Metro announced that it would review all safety policies and increase the number of "safety checks" during maintenance work. Executives began holding safety meetings with employees Monday night and planned to continue them throughout the week.

Orange Line trains had been operating on a single track between the West Falls Church and Vienna stations over the weekend to accommodate the repair project.

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