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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.

"It's difficult for me to hear this," Brooks said. "I feel that Metro looks at what happens to their employees as just collateral damage to running the business."

Requests for records

None of the controversy over safety monitoring has been made public before. Metro has not released any documents in response to a September request from The Washington Post under the authority's open records policy for documents related to the safety audit. The newspaper learned of the dispute by analyzing minutes from oversight committee meetings, which are closed to the public, and through records received from Maryland and Virginia under public information requests.

It is the latest safety issue at Metro uncovered by The Post since a June 22 crash on the Red Line killed nine people and injured 80.

In August, The Post reported that Metro's supposedly fail-safe crash avoidance system had failed in March on Capitol Hill, allowing two trains to come "dangerously close" to colliding. A few weeks later, the paper reported that the same system also failed in 2005, when three trains narrowly escaped what records said would have been "disastrous collisions" in a tunnel under the Potomac River. That system is at the heart of a federal investigation into the deadly Red Line crash.

In September, The Post reported that Metro's highly publicized decision to sandwich older subway cars between newer ones was made after the crash to give the public "a sense of security."

In each instance, Metro declined to immediately release records related to the incidents under its open records policy.

"After these fatal accidents, you would think they would be bending over backward to try and assist in any type of safety oversight," said Jim Hall, a safety consultant and former chairman of the NTSB. He called on federal and local officials to ensure that Metro operates as securely as possible.

"This operation has said one thing and done another in regard to safety for years. The fatalities speak for themselves," Hall said. "This has been a failure of responsibility on every level."

Audit reveals problems

After four subway workers were struck and killed by trains in 2005 and 2006, Metro imposed new rules to improve safety. Months later, in 2007, monitors for the oversight committee walked the tracks and reported an unusually high number of violations.

The committee produced a stinging report that pointed to systemic problems with track safety.

The audit concluded that Metro consistently violated its own safety rules. Among other problems, operators failed to slow and sound their horns when approaching track workers, and dispatchers did not warn train operators to watch out for workers at particular points along the rails.

Metro employees did not report the violations, the audit said. A subsequent investigation by the NTSB reached many of the same conclusions about Metro's rules and procedures.

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