Another bad day for Metro in a deadly summer

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Local,Kytja Weir

Metro faced yet another bad day in what is amounting to a terrible and deadly summer.

A subcontractor working at a Metro bus garage was apparently electrocuted Tuesday morning, dying after getting shocked while wiring an air compressor.

By afternoon, a fire had erupted on the Orange Line. Then a cracked rail was found on the beleaguered Red Line, causing delays in the start of the evening commute.

Yet Tuesday was hardly the worst day in a summer in which the transit agency has faced the worst crash in its 33-year history, a track worker was killed, several people committed suicide on the rails, trains overran stations, fires broke out, riders were trapped in an elevator for 90 minutes, and Metro employees were fired and arrested while misbehaving on the job.

A BAD SUMMER

In addition to a spate of suicides on Metro’s rails, plus several employees busted for reading, texting and even sleeping while operating Metro vehicles, the transit system has had a number of problems, including:

» Aug. 9: Track spotter Michael Nash, a 21-year Metro veteran, was killed when he was hit by a machine spreading gravel near the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metro station.

» July 31: A train loaded with 10 cars — two more than the train platforms can fit  — passed through five Metro stations before stopping. An employee who helped put the train together tested positive for drugs and was sent to a rehab program.

» July 30: A string of unrelated events, including: an Orange Line fire in which a train operator had to use an extinguisher in a tunnel; an elevator that was stuck for more than 90 minutes with 10 people, including four children, aboard; and the arrest of a Metrobus driver involved in a bus crash who was charged with driving without a license. The bus driver was later fired.

» July 25: A Metrobus driver was arrested and charged with kidnapping a passenger, after an argument escalated and authorities said he refused to let the woman off the bus. He was later fired.

» June 25: Two cracked rails were discovered within an hour of each other, one on the Red Line near the Medical Center station and one on the Green Line near the West Hyattsville stop.

» June 22:  A train crashed into a stopped train near the Fort Totten station of the Red Line, killing nine people and injuring more than 70 . The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but preliminary reports point to failures of the automatic train safety system that is designed to stop trains before they get too close. 

Metro officials say the summer isn't normal. "If you had to make a list, you couldn't make these up," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

But officials have no explanation for why so many incidents, including the June crash that killed nine and injured more than 70, have occurred this summer.

"Our customers are smart enough to know these are very unusual circumstances," Farbstein said. Still, ridership for both the rail and bus services dropped in July, officials said.

Metro officials have responded to the incidents by clamping down on safety several times and tightening rules on erring Metro employees, including changing the policy to fire any employee who uses a cell phone while driving a bus or train.

Metro officials have responded to the incidents by clamping down on safety several times and tightening rules on erring Metro employees, including changing the policy to fire any employee who uses a cell phone while driving a bus or train.

Still, the incidents are occurring. And the bodies are mounting, with at least 14 people killed since the start of June.

In the latest fatal incident, a subcontractor working at the Bladensburg bus garage in Northeast D.C. was apparently electrocuted around 8:40 a.m. Tuesday while wiring a new air compressor, Farbstein said.

The man, whose name was not available Tuesday, worked for Jaxson Point Inc. of King George, Va., under M&M Welding and Fabricators Inc. in Gaithersburg.

D.C. police are investigating the death, and the agency is conducting an internal investigation.

In the latest Metro infrastructure failure, a cracked rail was found on the Red Line between the Friendship Heights and Bethesda Metrorail stations Tuesday afternoon. The problem, spotted during a track inspection, meant trains had to share a single track for nearly three hours, causing delays along the line.

As Red Line delays mounted, a train operator spotted smoke outside the Deanwood station on the Orange Line on Tuesday afternoon. A wooden crosstie on the tracks was smoldering. The operator offloaded the train at the station while the fire was put out, then passengers got back on. Unlike the hours-long Red Line delays, the Orange Line was back on schedule within 12 minutes.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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