- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

The National Transportation Safety Board yesterday blamed the drivers of Maryland Transit Administration light-rail vehicles for two separate crashes last year that injured a total of 35 persons.
In both accidents, the vehicles hit a hydraulic bumping post at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport station. Only one of the injuries was serious.
The train operator in the Feb. 13, 2000, accident was medicated with either prescription drugs or cocaine when he failed to apply the brakes in time to avoid hitting the bumping post at the end of the rail line, the NTSB said. The train operator in the Aug. 15, 2000, accident suffered a sleeping disorder that made him too sleepy to realize he should apply the brakes, the transportation investigative agency reported.
"The chronic fatigue he was experiencing due to undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea likely caused the train 22 operator to fall asleep," the NTSB report said.
The agency said the MTA should have been more diligent in monitoring employees who use drugs.
"Because the Maryland Transit Administration did not require safety-sensitive employees to report their use of prescription and over-the-counter medications, it lacked information that could have had a bearing on the condition and performance of such employees," the NTSB said. "Maryland Transit Administration managers and employees were confused about the requirements for reporting medication use to the Maryland Transit Administration."
The NTSB recommended the MTA institute a program for determining which employees are using drugs and whether they should be removed from service because the drugs impair their judgment.
The report also said bumping posts that can absorb more energy should be installed at the BWI station. In both cases, the bumping post was knocked loose from its moorings.
The event recorders on the light-rail vehicles provided no data that could serve as "a reliable accident investigation tool," the NTSB said.
Suzanne Bond, MTA spokeswoman, said all the problems mentioned by the NTSB are being corrected.
"We obviously worked very closely with the NTSB over the last 22 months," Mrs. Bond said. "We developed and are implementing a 55-point program to enhance safety on light-rail vehicles as well as local buses and the Baltimore subway system. That 55-point program provides for layers of redundancy for safety measures."
The safety measures include stricter drug use monitoring, a fatigue awareness program and stronger bumping posts. Safety improvements so far have cost the MTA $30 million, Mrs. Bond said.
The NTSB investigation was hampered because the event recorders on the light-rail trains stopped working during the accident.
"The recorders on the trains did not record the accident at all because they do not operate when the train is not on the track," Mrs. Bond said.
The MTA plans to solicit bids for recorders that will continue operating in an accident and store the data in computer memory, she said.

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