Feds say Metro safety culture to blame for worker deaths

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DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Rockville incident report (1-26-10)
Farragut North derailment report (2-12-10)
Falls Church collision report (11-29-09)

Metro could have done more to protect two workers who were killed when a track vehicle hit them in 2010, according to federal safety investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released reports on its investigations into three accidents that occurred at Metro in 2010 and 2009: the accident killing track workers Jeffrey Garrard and Sung Oh, a derailment that stranded 345 riders underground and a slow-speed crash in a rail yard that seriously damaged four rail cars.

The safety board did not issue any recommendations to Metro, though, saying the transit agency was already addressing the failures that led to the accidents. And it said the train operators were largely to blame in the derailment and rail yard crash. The NTSB did urge other transit agencies and a trade group to learn from the accidents, though.

But the reports came just three days after Metro got another reminder about safety, when a Metro worker was struck by a train in a rail yard. As of Friday, the mechanic remained hospitalized in critical condition, having lost a foot, among other injuries.

“Any transit agency must ensure the safety of its employees as well as its passengers,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a written statement. “These reports underscore the need for an effective safety management system: it must be the central part of an organization’s operating plan and it must be understood and embraced by all employees, at all times.”

The NTSB had pledged to complete the reports by the end of last July, according to a letter that Hersman sent to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., last June. “Sometimes it takes a little longer than anticipated,” spokesman Terry Williams said of the delay.

The reports confirmed the train operator in the derailment had been on the job for only a few weeks after returning from nine years of leave for an on-the-job ankle injury, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. She was fired for not following procedures.

The rail yard crash was a reminder that the agency’s oldest rail cars are not safe if involved in a crash, as the NTSB had warned before. The train was traveling only 16 mph when it struck the stopped train, but it caused major damage to four rail 1000-series cars in the middle of the train, the report shows.

Metro has been putting the 1000-series cars in the middle of trains since the deadly 2009 Fort Totten train crash as a protective measure, but the NTSB has said it does not make a difference. Metro has said it cannot get rid of the trains as they make up about a quarter of the fleet, but the agency has ordered replacement cars, which should all arrive by 2017.

THE ACCIDENTS:
Nov. 28, 2009: West Falls Church Yard
A train rear-ended a stopped train in a rail yard, causing minor injuries to two Metro maintenance car cleaners on the stopped train and the operator of the moving train. The NTSB blamed the train operator, possibly because of fatigue. He also had a series of minor safety violations in the past.
Damages: $9 million in damage to four 1000-series rail cars

Jan. 26, 2010: Rockville
Two veteran track workers, Jeffrey Garrard and Sung Oh, were killed when a special truck running backwards on the tracks outside the Rockville station hit them. The truck was traveling at about 13 mph when it hit the two men, but the alarm that was supposed to sound when backing up was deactivated. The NTSB blamed multiple communication problems and inadequate safeguards to protect track workers.

Feb. 12, 2010: Farragut North
A Red Line train derailed on a sidetrack outside the station, stranding 345 riders underground. The NTSB blamed the operator, who was fired.
Damages: $174,000

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