Near miss for workers on Metro tracks under investigation

A Metro train risked hitting workers on the tracks Thursday morning near Pentagon City.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission told WTOP in an email that Metro reported the incident as required soon after it happened around 10:10 a.m.

Metro confirmed the incident is under investigation, but spokeswoman Sherri Ly said the agency would have no further comment.

Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, raised concerns about the incident the union said involved a northbound Yellow Line train that “almost made contact with an entire work crew on the tracks” as it pulled up to the Pentagon City station.

The safety commission did not immediately have confirmed information about how close the train came to the workers.

Union Chief of Staff Barry Hobson said the train operator applied the emergency brakes and stopped just short of the work crew.

It is not clear, though, how many of the six maintenance workers inspecting the area ahead of overnight track work were actually on the tracks at the time. It is also unclear whether any workers that were on the tracks rather than on a safety walk or similar protected area had permission from the Rail Operations Control Center to be there.

“The WMSC is aware of an incident earlier today in which a train operator had not been notified there would be a work crew on the tracks. The WMSC has sought answers and an investigation, which the WMSC will consider at a public meeting in the near future,” the safety commission said in a tweet.

When workers do have permission to be on the tracks, Metro has an employee or contractor on the station platform just before a train approaches the work crew, in this case Crystal City, warn the train operator that there is a work crew on the tracks ahead so that they keep the train moving slowly until it has fully passed the work crew.

That “advance mobile flagger” was instituted after a series of incidents where trains risked running over workers, including one where workers had to dive out of the way of an oncoming train. The measure is meant to be temporary until a long-term automated warning system could eventually be implemented.

The flagger is in touch with the work crew via radio or cellphone as well as rail controllers to determine when a crew is on the tracks in a position where the train operator needs to be warned.

According to data provided to WTOP by independent monitoring group Rail Transit OPS, the train before the one that came very close to hitting the work crew spent more time on the platform at Crystal City than the following train, suggesting that the first train may have been warned of workers ahead on the tracks while the second one may not have been warned.

The second train was not warned, ATU Local 689 said, but the investigation will determine whether fault lies with the contracted flagger, the train operator or someone in the work crew.

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