- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

The chaos that ensued after a man was fatally struck by a Metro train during Monday evening rush hour could have been minimized had recommendations made after a tunnel fire last April been followed.

For more than an hour, hundreds of passengers milled around the Dupont Circle and Woodley Park Zoo-Adams Morgan Metro stations along the Red Line before Metro personnel arrived to give them guidance.

The stations were closed for about four hours after 34-year-old Mark Joseph Osbourne of Chevy Chase, Md., was struck and killed by a train pulling into the Dupont Circle station around 5:50 p.m. D.C. police are investigating it as a suicide.

Ray Feldmann, a Metro spokesman, said everything went smoothly during Monday night's incident, except for the lapse of communication with passengers immediately after the incident.

"It took [rail and bus] supervisors over an hour to get there to give information," Mr. Feldmann said. "Because of traffic conditions, road conditions and the time of day that it happened, it took a little longer than we'd like. The response time is something we are going to improve on in the future."

Part of the delay stemmed from Metro having to notify the supervisors, who then had to find a way to get to the scene of the accident, Mr. Feldmann said, adding that the weather didn't help.

Metro has cited inadequate staffing and lack of a "supervisor's emergency-response plan" for its problems communicating with passengers during emergencies. Those problems were scrutinized after the April tunnel fire, and safety recommendations were made after internal and external investigations into the incident.

The Washington Times reported last month that among the recommendations still not implemented were providing clearer radio communication commands from train operators and developing a supervisor's emergency-response plan.

Mr. Feldmann said passengers were forewarned of the emergency through announcements made on the trains and throughout the stations.

"We made it clear that it was due to a medical emergency," Mr. Feldmann said. "We encouraged people to find alternate means of transportation."

He also said it was difficult to keep up with the volume of stranded passengers because the shuttle buses that were brought in to transport passengers hold only 70 persons each, compared with the 900-person capacity of a six-car Metro train. The buses ferried about 5,400 passengers between the Cleveland Park and Farragut North stations, he said.

But Mr. Feldmann acknowledged Metro needs to do a better job getting the word out to those left stranded at stations during an emergency.

"The one area we need to improve is how to get information to customers after the incident occurred," Mr. Feldmann said. "We need to look at ways of getting information to those customers sooner."

Metro Board member Christopher E. Zimmerman, a frequent critic of Metro's customer communications, said he wants to find out whether Metro followed procedures and if it could have handled the situation better.

"That's a question that needs to be asked," said Mr. Zimmerman, a Democrat who also serves on the Arlington County Board. He noted that Metro has made great strides in improving its safety record, but that "communications has been a bigger part of the problem."

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