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Blind man falls onto Metro tracks, isn't the first to slip

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Local,Kytja Weir

A man hit by a Metro train at Gallery Place on Sunday may have tumbled from the platform because he was blind, the transit agency said.

The 48-year-old Rockville man, who remained hospitalized in critical condition as of Monday evening, fell just before 7:30 a.m. into the path of a Red Line train bound for Shady Grove.

He was not the only person to have slipped accidentally off a train platform onto the tracks this year, nor the first with a disability.

Accidental falls in 2009

»  January: A woman escaped with minor injuries after she was rescued from the Gallery Place tracks by a visiting Texas cop during the inauguration.

»  March: Kevin Deiss, 22, was killed about 1:45 a.m. when he was struck by a train at East Falls Church station after he fell onto the tracks. The death was ruled an accident.

»  June: A man in a wheelchair injured his head when he rolled into the track bed at Southern Avenue.

»  Sunday: A 48-year-old blind Rockville man tumbled onto the Gallery Place tracks into the path of a Red Line train.

At least three other people have fallen onto the tracks this year, with one case involving a wheelchair and another turning deadly. But the number of falls is likely much higher, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. She could not provide specifics, though, as some cases when people are rescued by passengers are never reported.

Others jump intentionally onto the tracks to retrieve dropped objects -- or to kill themselves. Metro has had a rash of suicides this year, with at least nine people killing themselves via trains.

The cases highlight a tension of how to keep people off the tracks. It's especially tricky as the agency is trying to encourage riders with disabilities to ride the train and bus systems instead of taking the pricey MetroAccess shared-ride service.

The agency is taking several steps to make the platforms safer: It has added bumpy tiles along the edge of 64 of its 86 stations to help people with visual impairments feel the platform edge; it has added red flashing lights to alert those with hearing impairments; and it is installing concrete pavers in place of the slick hexagon tiles to make outdoor stations less slippery.

It also created a $1.2 million program in the fall to expand training for riders with disabilities on how to navigate the trains and buses safely.

But putting in a physical obstacle such as railings or sliding doors along the platform edge is too pricey, Metro has said.

In Sunday's accident, the station where the man was struck has bumpy tiles. Metro could not say whether he had a walking cane with him, nor whether he had undergone training on how to use the system safely. His name has not been released for privacy concerns, Farbstein said.

D.C. disability rights advocate Bobby Coward said he wondered why the agency couldn't add an alarm to ring out if people get too close to the edge of the platform. He said he realized it would cost money but that it could help warn those who get too close as well as others in the station.

"It could be done," Coward said. "Metro is seeking to cut costs at the expense of providing quality and reliable service to persons with disabilities."

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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