Metro operator in Farragut North derailment had just returned from long leave

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010

The Metrorail operator whose six-car train derailed after she ran a red light and went onto a side track at Farragut North station last month had been on leave for years from Metro and had recently returned to the job, according to current and former Metro personnel.

The operator was fired March 11 for failing to follow standard procedures during the rush-hour Red Line incident, which stranded 345 passengers, including three who suffered minor injuries. Questions have been raised about whether she was adequately retrained upon her return from a long leave.

A former Metro employee familiar with the investigation said the operator had not received the full 13-week cycle of training new operators undergo.

Metro officials, however, said that regardless of what training she received, a basic mistake such as running a red light and triggering a derailment should have been avoided.

"Running a red light is a very bad thing," said Mortimer Downey, a federal Metro board member. "It is a cardinal sin in my book." He said that under Metro policy, a train operator should never run a red signal unless commanded to do so by the operations control center. Downey said he was informed at the time of the derailment that the train operator had recently returned from leave.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, which is one of four open NTSB probes of Metro accidents -- more than at any other transit agency in the country. The NTSB investigation is focused in part on why the train pulled onto the pocket track.

The train operator was a veteran employee who was hired in 1976 and had worked as a rail operator for more than a decade, since April 1999, according to a statement released by Metro. After the incident, she was taken off the job for drug and alcohol testing, which is standard Metro procedure, and placed on paid administrative leave.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company