Metrorail Operator Who Was Ill and Left Train Put on Leave

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Metrorail operator is on paid administrative leave after he left his train --with passengers on it -- at the New York Avenue Station last week and refused to complete his shift, transit agency officials said.

Eight stops remained between the unidentified operator and the end of the Red Line, but at 11:24 p.m. Monday, he radioed the operations control center to request a restroom break.

"He was not feeling well," Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said. "That was granted."

The control center dispatched the station manager to temporarily supervise the train.

Fifteen minutes later, the operator still had not returned. Another train headed toward Glenmont had to share the track with oncoming trains to rescue the stranded passengers. Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said the number of passengers affected isn't known, but she speculated that the number would have been small because of the late hour.

When the operator finally returned to his train and was told to continue to the end of the line, he would not. According to a Metro source, the operator said it was time for him to go off-duty.

The agency confirmed that he refused. "He did not comply with the appropriate instructions from the operations control center or the supervisor to move the train," Taubenkibel said. "And, as a result, he was removed from service."

It is a violation of Metro rules for operators to stop operating a bus or a train until they have been properly replaced.

On Friday, officials were awaiting results of a drug and alcohol test, Taubenkibel said.

The union that represents the worker declined to discuss details of the case, saying it is waiting for Metro to decide whether disciplinary action will be taken.

"The union doesn't condone operators not adhering to standard operating procedures with regard to personal relief, but we'll be following the results of the investigation," Jackie L. Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said through a representative. "We'll take appropriate action."

As a precaution since the June 22 Red Line crash, Metro operators, and not a computer, continuously control a train's speed. Because manual operation demands more concentration, the union has been pushing to ensure that members get proper breaks. The contract limits operator time at the controls to 5 hours and 45 minutes before requiring a 20-minute break. Metro has acknowledged that operators sometimes need to work beyond that. It is unclear whether that was a factor Monday.

Central operations control dispatched a supervisor to take the train the rest of the way to the rail yard at Glenmont.

Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company