With Metro access granted, monitors will begin safety checks

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Independent monitors who had been barred by Metro from observing safety procedures on live subway tracks are scheduled to perform those checks Wednesday, the chairman of the monitoring group said.

Two weeks ago, the Metro board of directors ordered transit agency employees to cooperate with monitors from the Tri-State Oversight Committee. The board was responding to a Washington Post report that said Metro executives had barred the committee from walking along live tracks since spring.

Eric Madison, who heads the committee, said Tuesday that the group has been assured by Metro that "we will have access to the right-of-way [live track]."

The committee is the regional body that oversees safety at Metro. Since late April, Metro had barred the committee from the track bed while trains were in operation. The monitors are seeking to ensure that Metro is following worker safety rules after employees were killed on the tracks in 2005 and 2006.

Shortly after the monitors were denied access, two Metro workers were fatally injured in separate incidents on the tracks.

Noting that the access comes eight months after the committee's initial request, Madison said: "We wish we could have done it sooner. I'm glad we were able to reach a resolution on this and go out and do it."

Three committee members will be part of three observation groups, which will include the committee's consultant, working during the day and at night, Madison said. A second day of monitoring is possible, he said.

Inspectors are looking to confirm a number of practices, including that all Metro workers on the tracks wear safety gear, that they communicate properly with train operators and dispatchers, and that operators slow their trains and sound their horns when they see workers.

Metro board members have said that after news of the dispute became public, Metro officials led them to believe that the monitors were barred from the tracks because they refused to be escorted by Metro safety personnel. In fact, correspondence from the monitors to Metro safety chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels shows that the monitors explicitly agreed to be accompanied by Metro employees.

The board has ordered an internal investigation into the dispute.

Since the ban became public, the agency has increased supervision of Dupigny-Samuels. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) has called on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to investigate Metro's oversight by the committee. The House and Senate plan to hold hearings this month that will address safety concerns at Metro.

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