Metro Transit Agency Worker Hit, Injured by Train in Virginia

Transit workers and police near the scene of an accident in Alexandria in which a track worker was struck by a train.
Transit workers and police near the scene of an accident in Alexandria in which a track worker was struck by a train. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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By James Hohmann and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 11, 2009

An unprecedented summer of tragedy continued for the Metro transit agency Thursday when a rail worker was struck and seriously injured by a six-car train between the Braddock Road and Reagan National Airport stations.

In less than three months: nine people were killed and 80 injured in a June 22 crash; a Metro worker was killed by a gravel-spreading machine; and a subcontractor was electrocuted while working at a bus garage. Last week, a 30-year-old House staff member, Amanda Mahnke, was struck by a Metrobus near Dupont Circle, and she remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Few details of the latest accident, in Alexandria, were available Thursday night. Metro declined to reveal the name of the worker, what he was doing on the track when he was hit about 10:40 a.m. or the nature of his injuries. Metro officials would say only that the employee is 44 years old, has been with Metro since 1996 and works in the office responsible for repairing the communication network that alerts the agency's control center about warnings from fire alarms and other sensors.

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said that safety procedures have "intensified tremendously" since the Red Line crash near Fort Totten and that he is determined to discover the cause of Thursday's accident.

"One is more than what we'd like," Catoe said when asked about the spate of worker injuries.

Catoe ordered safety training for all front-line employees after the gravel-spreading machine struck and killed veteran employee Michael Nash on Aug. 9 during routine track maintenance work on the Orange Line.

On Aug. 18, Steven T. Griffith, an employee of a subcontractor, was electrocuted while installing an air compressor at the Bladensburg bus garage.

Jackie L. Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents most of Metro's train and bus operators, described herself as "numb" because of the latest incident.

"I truly don't know what happened, and I don't want to accuse or say someone did something they weren't supposed to do, but I do know at this point in the game, the authority has got to realize that something is not being done properly," she said. "I believe the authority has a responsibility to start an all-out campaign for safety. I know that sounds shallow. What I'm thinking of is, everybody has to be on point where this is concerned."

Jeter said that the injured worker is a member of her union and that she planned to meet with workers in his department at 10 a.m. Friday.

After three Metro employees were struck and killed by Metrorail trains in two accidents in 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that Metro "promptly implement" technology that automatically alerts track workers of approaching trains and warns train operators of workers on or near the tracks. Since then, some Metro track workers have been pushing for the agency to install such devices.

The technology relies on portable units on the tracks that send sound and light warnings to track workers and train-mounted devices that alert train operators. The equipment was installed on the Baltimore subway this year.

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