A Metro mechanic was hit by a train in a maintenance shop midday Tuesday, suffering life-threatening injuries after he was trapped under a rail car for more than a hour.
The worker, a Metro veteran of 25 years, was hit by the out-of-service, four-car train shortly before 1 p.m. in a car-washing shop at the Shady Grove rail yard. His name was not released.
He had accidentally walked in front of the train, said Scott Graham, assistant chief of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.
Metro declined to discuss details of what happened, saying officials were investigating. The train operator was put on leave, which is standard after such incidents.
The man remained trapped under the lead rail car for more than an hour before crews could free him. He then was rushed by helicopter to a local trauma center.
The incident was the first case of a worker being struck by a train since General Manager Richard Sarles joined Metro in spring 2010. Metro had a string of worker fatalities in 2009 and 2010, with four employees killed by trains in three incidents. Those, and the 2009 Fort Totten train crash that killed nine people, became catalysts for a major transformation of Metro's leadership, including the appointment of Sarles.
Tuesday's incident happened hours after Metro announced it had completed a major safety improvement, adding the last of 178 track guards to prevent derailments. The equipment was added in response to a 2007 derailment.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President Jackie Jeter, who represents the mechanic, said she met with her members on Monday and they were proud of all the safety improvements they have helped make.
"You hear something like this happen and you wonder what else can be done," Jeter said. "Human error is human error. From everything I've just heard, it was a freak accident, and freak accidents do occur in this industry."
The Tri-State Oversight Committee, which oversees Metrorail safety, sent members to the scene Tuesday to look into the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which has three pending investigations into Metro incidents, was gathering information but had not started a formal probe, said spokesman Terry Williams.
Metro conducted a "safety stand-down" at the rail yard, where employees were offered counseling and safety practices were reviewed.