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New training, tech on way to Metro after federal inspectors nearly run over

According to Metro Board Member Kathy Porter, one of Metro’s major issues has been maintaining a safety focus after being shocked into it following the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — After federal inspectors nearly got run over by a train last month, Metro has begun new training for workers on the tracks and will soon test an automated warning system that the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended for years.

Documents prepared for the Metro Board’s Safety Committee indicate that the automated warning system could be tested in two spots by the end of the year.

Metro had promised as far back as June 2008 that it had purchased the equipment to begin a pilot program. The NTSB noted in March of this year that Metro was making acceptable progress to address the issue, which was initially raised after a Metro worker was struck and killed in May 2006 on the Red Line near Dupont Circle and two other Metro workers were killed in November 2006 on the Yellow Line near Eisenhower Avenue.

The warning system would attach to the side of the rail to detect when trains are coming, and would trigger an audible and visual alert through a worker’s armband. A second part of the system could be installed later and would trigger a similar alert for train operators approaching a work zone.

Metro has applied for a Federal Transit Administration grant that could fund further testing of different technology options.

For now, Metro is looking into using flashing amber lights or flags as an additional signal to train operators that they are approaching work crews.

As part of Metro’s latest “safety stand-down,” all Metro workers authorized to access the tracks are supposed to get new training this month on the rules that exist today to keep them safe.

“The criticality of effectively performing this function was underscored by the recent near miss incident at Reagan National Airport on October 20, 2016,” the board documents say, referring to the federal inspectors who were nearly struck.

Starting Nov. 4, Metro staff say workers with the highest level of training who escort contractors on the tracks have been taught from a new curriculum “to ensure these individuals understand their roles and responsibilities,” the documents stated.

Train operators have also gotten new training and messages emphasizing the importance of safety and slowing down when workers are on the tracks.

The federal inspectors were nearly run over in a blind spot in a curve just outside Reagan National Airport. That near miss has led to a weeks-long slowdown for Yellow and Blue Line riders. The enforced speed restriction is meant to prevent any speeding or collisions in the area, even though workers are not always there.

Metro reviews all of those so-called “hot spots” across the system this year, but now Metro safety experts want a broader analysis. The new review would define what steps workers must take in each specific area to stay safe.

Metro would include those details in a new pocket guide to “Roadway Worker Protection,” which would include basic safety guidelines along with the locations of stretches of track where there may be blind spots for train operators or workers.

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