Metro has barred safety monitors from tracks, records show

Since 2005, six Metro workers have been struck by trains and fatally injured while on the tracks. The most recent deaths took place in August and September.
By Joe Stephens and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2009

Since the spring, Metro officials have barred independent monitors from walking along subway tracks to observe safety procedures while trains are in normal service, even if escorted by Metro employees, newly obtained records show.

The monitors, from the Tri-State Oversight Committee, wanted to determine whether Metro was following rules put in place in recent years after a number of workers had been fatally injured on the job.

Instead, they have spent the past six months pressing Metro in writing and in person for access -- a period in which two Metro employees were struck and fatally injured on the tracks.

The monitors became so frustrated that at one point, internal e-mails show, they discussed formally notifying federal officials and invoking their toughest sanction: declaring Metro to be officially out of compliance with safety requirements. Such a move could cause Metro to lose part of its federal funding.

In July, the oversight committee made a plea in writing, telling Metro that without access to live tracks, it couldn't ensure workers' safety.

On Aug. 9, a track vehicle on the Orange Line struck and killed Metro worker Michael Nash.

A month later, committee members met with Metro officials, telling them that if they were unable to get on the tracks they would "elevate this issue," notes of the meeting show.

At 10:40 the next morning, a train near Reagan National Airport struck and fatally injured Metro technician John Moore.

Now, more than six months after the dispute began, safety monitors said they remain barred from entering the right of way along active train tracks.

Metro officials told the monitors that they were looking out for their safety. On Friday, Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said that there had been a "misimpression" and that committee members could approach the tracks if accompanied by safety escorts.

The dispute encapsulates what many safety experts and federal officials have described as a fundamental flaw with Metro and other subway systems: a lack of effective and enforceable oversight that leaves transit systems in charge of policing their own safety.

Unlike with other forms of transportation, the federal government cedes primary oversight of subways to a patchwork of state-level monitoring boards.

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