A man waiting for a commuter train in Silver Spring yesterday morning leaped to the railroad tracks and rescued a woman who had lain down in the train's path moments before it rolled past.

Paul Newton, a 38-year-old U.S. government auditor, said he was waiting for Baltimore & Ohio commuter train No. 38 as it rolled toward the station at 6:26 a.m. when he saw the woman "put herself across the tracks and just lie there."

The woman, who was about 50 feet west of the station as the train approached from the east, was also spotted by the train's engineer, who applied emergency brakes, according to a press release from the Chessie System, which operates the commuter line.

As the 100-ton train continued to move toward the motionless woman, Newton ran toward her, wondering when the locomotive was going to stop and whether the woman would move, he recalled later.

"Just as Newton reached down . . . got his arms around the person and leaned backward, the front of the engine passed by and traveled another 15 feet," the railroad reported.

The woman, who told police she is 29 years old and lives in Silver Spring, was unharmed. She refused to give her name and later was admitted to the psychiatric ward of Montgomery General Hospital for observation.

Newton, who lives in Jefferson, Md., and works at the General Accounting Office in downtown Washington, said he usually catches the commuter train at 5:25 a.m. in Brunswick, Md., and was at the Silver Spring station yesterday only because his wife had a doctor's appointment nearby.

He seemed surprised by what he had done. "I have to think about it," he said. "I was thinking about getting a cup of coffee, but now I think I could use something a little stronger."