Washington's Metro fires operator who crashed into parked train

By Ann scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009

Metro this week fired the train operator who crashed into a parked train at a Northern Virginia rail yard in November. The accident injured three workers and caused at least $9 million in damage.

"He was released from the position for failure to follow standard operating procedures," Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

Metro sources said the train was moving at 18 mph when it crashed, above the 15 mph limit for rail yards and far faster than the speed operators are supposed to run when approaching parked trains.

Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said the agency could not comment because it is part of an ongoing federal investigation.

Metro is conducting an internal investigation of the Nov. 29 crash at the West Falls Church rail yard, and the National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating the early morning incident. The crash injured the train operator and two rail car cleaners who were aboard the parked train. Metro reported at the time that the employees suffered bumps, bruises and cuts. Metro officials said the operator was tested for alcohol and drugs, but the agency has not released the results.

The train operator, who had been on the job for about a year, had worked for Metro since 2007, officials said. Metro did not release the name of the employee, who had been on paid administrative leave since the accident. Officials have said the operator was at the end of a 10 1/2 -hour shift when the crash took place.

Two cars derailed in the crash, and all 12 rail cars involved were damaged. Officials have been assessing their condition. Metro operates cars as pairs, and officials have said it is likely that the mates of the three cars that were damaged beyond repair will also be inoperable. New cars cost about $3 million each, so damages could total as much as $36 million.

Metro procedures call for train operators to slow trains to about 2 or 3 mph when approaching parked trains in rail yards and to take other precautions, such as sounding the horn. In the past, Metro train operators have reported power "surges" that can occur when trains are moving slowly in the rail yards. The surge causes trains to lurch forward.

The accident was the fourth involving Metrorail workers since the June 22 crash on the Red Line that killed nine people. In August at the same rail yard, two Metro mechanics were hurt when a two-car train struck the rail cars they were working on. A Metro worker was struck and killed by a piece of track equipment on the Orange Line on Aug. 9, and a worker was fatally injured by a train between the Braddock Road and Reagan National Airport stations Sept. 10.

Metro has been criticized by federal lawmakers recently over lapses in safety oversight and accountability. At a meeting Thursday, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. issued what he called a "declaration of war" on safety problems.

Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

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