NTSB investigates Red Line accident that killed 2 Metro track workers

Investigators converge just north of the Rockville Metro, where two workers were killed early Tuesday.
By Lena H. Sun and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Federal officials investigating the deaths Tuesday of two Metro employees are trying to determine why the driver of a Metro utility vehicle did not know that the men were working behind him on the tracks.

They are also trying to fathom why a long string of safety lapses and oversight failures that have been brought to light at the transit agency appears to continue unabated.

Five Metro workers have been killed on the tracks in the past seven months. The safety problems, including a Red Line crash June 22 that killed nine people, have triggered an upheaval in Metro's leadership and prompted the White House to plan an overhaul of transit oversight nationwide.

Tuesday's accident occurred about 2 a.m. near the Rockville Station when a truck, modified to operate on the rails and moving in reverse, backed into two technicians who were working on the tracks as part of a separate crew.

Safety rules require Metro officials to keep all vehicle operators informed about the locations of work crews, but auditors recently questioned whether that was being done effectively.

The gasoline-powered truck, known as a high-rail vehicle, typically carries gear and equipment and is used to travel along tracks where the electricity that powers trains has been turned off. The vehicles routinely travel in reverse but, unlike many trucks, do not always emit a beep.

Investigators did not say how fast the vehicle was moving.

Jeff Garrard, 49, of Clarksburg was pronounced dead at the scene. Sung Duk Oh, 68, of Montgomery Village died at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. Garrard had worked for Metro since 1990, officials said, and Oh since 1998.

None of the four workers in the truck were injured. They were to undergo drug and alcohol testing, officials said.

Many details were not immediately made public, including whether one of the two technicians had been assigned to watch for oncoming traffic, as is generally required under Metro's safety rules. The National Transportation Safety Board said the four workers in the vehicle were placing devices to warn approaching trains to slow in advance of beginning their own work on the tracks.

The NTSB has launched a formal investigation, which experts said is an indication of the seriousness with which the board is taking the accident. The NTSB has been investigating the June crash, in which nine people were killed and 80 were injured, and a railyard crash in November that injured three workers and caused at least $9 million in damage.

Federal investigators are examining the truck, track rules, radio communications, how many hours workers had been on the job, and physical conditions at the time of the accident Tuesday.

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