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Metro train nearly hit team of safety inspectors, says report

A team of independent safety inspectors was nearly hit last month by a Metro train that appeared to be traveling at full speed and made no attempt to slow, as required by agency rules.

A report released late Wednesday by the body that oversees Metro says the inspectors "experienced a near-miss situation" and that they "were forced to quickly scramble out of the way to avoid being struck."

No one was injured in the incident, according to the report, which was released by the Tri-State Oversight Committee.

The team was working to see whether track worker protections were being followed and whether trains were slowing and stopping as required when they approached people on the tracks.

The Dec. 10 incident happened just days after Metro lifted a six month ban and allowed safety inspectors to once again have access to operating subway tracks.

The near-miss was the most dramatic event in what the report described as a number of critical violations of regulations meant to protect track workers, two of whom were killed in separate incidents over the past six months.

The inspectors said train operators failed to respond to hand signals from track personnel and that Metro's control center failed to give operators adequate warning about where workers were stationed on the tracks. In addition, the report said inspectors detected antagonism between track workers and train operators.

The review concluded that Metro's safety training was inadequate and that the transit agency needed to take "immediate, short-term corrective action" to address the safety issues.

The oversight committee also released written responses from Metro to its report. In a letter to the committee, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said the agency was convening a special safety task force to "examine our current worker protection program and identify needed improvements." The task force will be headed by Michael Taborn, the acting chief safety officer, and Catoe said representatives from the Federal Transit Administration and the union representing the majority of front-line workers would be invited to participate.

In the meantime, Taborn has drafted an immediate action plan to increase surveillance of track worker and train operator activities to ensure full compliance with existing rules and procedures, and to retrain all track workers on proper hand signals and train operators on proper communication with Metro's control center, according to the action plan released by the committee.

-- By Joe Stephens and Lena H. Sun

By Meghan Louttit  |  January 6, 2010; 5:08 PM ET
 | Tags: Metrorail, metro safety  
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