Metro's safety office was unaware of Red Line accident for more than 30 hours

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Metro's safety office did not know about a five-vehicle crash last weekend on the Red Line for well over 30 hours, transit officials said Tuesday. It was the second accident in that vicinity in less than a week.

The crash took place at 8:35 p.m. Saturday, when a crew of about 20 employees was riding into a tunnel to a work zone near the Medical Center Station aboard a large vehicle with a flatbed car attached.

"The Metro safety office said they had only learned about it Monday morning," said Eric Madison, chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which oversees safety on the Metro system. Madison said he called the office to ask about the crash after hearing rumors about it Monday.

Under federal rules, Metro is required to notify the committee of any accident involving a rail transit vehicle within two hours, Madison said. "We didn't get the call," he said.

Metro did not immediately respond to questions about why the safety office failed to learn about Saturday's accident until Monday.

The committee is awaiting a full report from Metro on the accident, which unfolded when the slow-moving vehicle carrying the workers hit a patch of ice and accelerated out of control, plowing into a pickup truck mounted on the rails. The pickup in turn hit three other stationary vehicles, according to Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

No injuries were reported, and none of the vehicles derailed, he said. Both the operator of the vehicle that slid, which was owned by Metro, and a supervisor were taken off the job and given mandatory drug and alcohol tests, he said. The other vehicles involved were all contractor-owned, according to Taubenkibel.

The accident was the second in less than a week involving a high-rail vehicle -- a pickup truck mounted on metal runners. On Jan. 26, a high-rail vehicle was backing up along the Red Line when it struck and killed two veteran Metro employees on the tracks.

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