Metrorail Train Has Too Many Cars; Operator Tests Positive for Drugs

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A train operator who delivered a train with two extra cars from a rail yard to the Greenbelt Metro station tested positive for drugs after the incident last month and is on unpaid leave while in a drug rehabilitation program, a Metro official said Tuesday.

Metro's active passenger trains are not supposed to be longer than eight cars, the most that station platforms can accommodate, said Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for the transit agency. The operator who took the 10-car train from the yard to the station is one of four people under investigation in the July 31 incident; he is the only one who tested positive for drugs, Taubenkibel said.

"There are checks and balances that are supposed to take place," Taubenkibel said. "The train operator is supposed to know how many cars are on his train. We have supervisors at the end-of-line stations, that are supposed to verify when trains leave. . . . Those checks and balances are currently being reviewed right now."

Taubenkibel said the 10-car train, with a different operator at the controls, left Greenbelt on the Green Line about 4:50 p.m. on a Friday. It stopped at College Park, Prince George's Plaza, West Hyattsville and Fort Totten stations. About 5:10, a rider notified the train operator over the intercom that the train had two extra cars. At the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station, the operator walked to the back of the train and checked.

Neither of the extra cars was carrying passengers because they extended beyond the platforms along the route, Taubenkibel said. All passengers were told to leave the train, and the 10-car train was taken to the Branch Avenue Station for review, he said.

Metro temporarily reassigned four employees: the operator now in rehab, the other train operator and two supervisors, Metro officials said. The second train operator and the two supervisors have been allowed to return to their regular jobs, he said, and no one has been disciplined.

"The investigation is still ongoing into the incident, and further potential disciplinary actions will be determined once the investigation has concluded," Taubenkibel said.

Taubenkibel said he did not know what drugs the employee had in his system or when he will return to work. He said that the employee's safety record is not open to the public but that the man has worked for Metro since July 2005.

The incident was first reported in the Washington Examiner.

It is common for Metro to move trains that are longer than eight cars between stations and rail yards, as long as they are not transporting passengers, Taubenkibel said.

"This type of incident is extremely rare," he said.

The development is another blow to Metro, which is under heightened scrutiny after the June 22 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured 80, and the death of a track repairman in an accident Sunday.

Metro recently established a zero-tolerance policy on non-emergency cellphone use for bus and train operators after a video showed a rail operator sending a text message while his train sped down the tracks. Additionally, a train operator was suspended for 12 days without pay after he was videotaped apparently sleeping behind the controls of a moving train.

Metrobus has had its share of embarrassing episodes. In the past month, a bus driver has been charged with kidnapping a passenger, a driver was caught driving with a suspended license, another was photographed with a cellphone to her ear, allegedly while driving, and yet another received a written reprimand for reading while transporting passengers.

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