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Metro fires train operator

Metro trains return to Farragut North following the Feb. 12 accident. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Metro has fired the train operator who was involved in the Feb.12 derailment of a six-car train at Farragut North.

The operator was terminated on March 11 "for failing to follow standard operating procedures," according to a Metro press release. The woman had worked for the agency since May 1976. She had been a rail operator since April 1999, Metro said. The first phase of Metrorail began operating in 1976.

In the incident, a Red Line train headed toward Shady Grove ended up on the wrong track and was automatically derailed by safety devices to prevent a possible collision with another train.

After leaving Farragut North, the train left the main track and went onto a short stretch of track, known as a pocket track, which is similar to a breakdown lane on a highway.

At the time, a Metro source who did not want to be identified because of the ongoing investigation, said controllers in Metro's downtown control center had set the switch to route the train onto the pocket track.

That source and another Metro source said the train operator had failed to stop at a red signal on the main track. According to procedure, the operator should have stopped and contacted the control center.

Once the train was on the pocket track, it stopped. It then began moving slowly toward a main track, and a pair of safety devices, known as derailers, "popped the wheels off the track" to prevent the train from going further, a Metro official said.

"It intentionally derailed the train for safety purposes to stop it from running a red light and prevented a collision," the official said.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent an investigator to the scene to take charge of the probe. The accident trapped about 345 pasengers underground for more than an hour. Three passengers were treated for minor inuries.

Metro did not release the name of the operator, who had been on administrative leave since the accident.

-- Staff Reports

By Michael Bolden  |  March 12, 2010; 2:28 PM ET
Categories:  Safety  | Tags: Metro  
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Just one? It's a start.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 12, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

A METRO Employee since '76, she should have been given the choice to retire, or be fired.

Posted by: Robbnitafl | March 12, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Given Metro's reluctance to fire anyone (even bus drivers with multiple accidents under their belts), I'm guessing there are other reasons this particular employee earned such a stiff punishment. Still, I like to think it represents a move to a zero-tolerance policy for negligent safety violations by Metro employees, and I hope Metro follows suit with the operator who caused a derailment earlier this week.

Posted by: VDouglass | March 12, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Robbnitafl - why should she be given the choice to retire?

She violated policy and put hundreds of lives at risk. That doesn't deserve a (taxpayer funded) retirement.

Posted by: wpjunk | March 12, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

It sounds like the initial fault lies with whomever in HQ set the switch to send the train onto the pocket track. The operator contributed to the error by eventually proceeding forward, but only after apparently stopping when she realized things weren't quite right. How does HQ get a pass on that, let alone fire her?

Posted by: zippyspeed | March 12, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

@zippyspeed: The way I read it, the train operator missed the stop signal, so central control set the switch to the pocket track so that they could figure out why the train did not stop.
The operator failed to contact central control and tried to move the train without authorization, hence the poppers and derailments.
That's why the firing happened.

Posted by: VADave | March 12, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

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