- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

Federal transportation officials said yesterday they have a videotape of the accident that killed one Metro worker and seriously injured another.

They expect the tape, along with witnesses, audio-dispatcher tapes and a device similar to an airplane’s black box, will help National Transportation Safety Board investigators learn what happened.

The workers were hit Thursday morning in Northern Virginia by an out-of-service Yellow Line train, marking Metro’s second work-related death this year and the third since October 2005. Fourteen employees have died in the 30-year history of Metro, considered the second-largest subway system in the country.

Safety board Chairman Mark Rosenker, who called the accident “unacceptable” Thursday, reiterated his concerns at a press conference yesterday.

“I believe there’s a problem,” he said. “When you have three accidents in 13 months, the board is out there investigating to find out what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again.”

In comparison, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest subway system in the country, reported one case of a train striking an employee this year and two last year, but no fatalities.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which serves metropolitan Philadelphia, has had no work-related fatalities in the past five years.

The safety board will need months to complete the investigation into Thursday’s accidentand make public the findings, Mr. Rosenker said.

“We will make recommendations, and hopefully Metro will implement them as soon as possible,” he said.

However, obvious errors or mistakes will be handled immediately, Mr. Rosenker said.

Jim Graham, Metro board member and D.C. Council member, said the safety board’s criticism of Metro was unfair and called Mr. Rosenker “unprofessional” for making such statements before the investigation is complete.

Mr. Rosenker refused yesterday to respond to Mr. Graham’s statement. Though he agreed it is too early to draw conclusions, Mr. Rosenker said he is confident the information gathered will make clear what occurred.

Leslie A. Cherry, a 29-year Metro employee, was killed in the accident. The injured employee, whose name was not released, was hospitalized in critical condition. He has been on the job since April.

Mr. Cherry, 52, of Maryland, and his co-worker cleared tracks and checked for damage to the rails, as part of their duties.

He and the other worker were inspecting the roughly half-mile stretch of elevated track between the Huntington and Eisenhower Avenue stations in Alexandria when they were hit, about 100 yards away from the Eisenhower station.

The videotape, which is being enhanced to improve its picture quality, is from a surveillance camera at the Eisenhower station.

Potential witnesses on the station platform were also seen on the tape, Mr. Rosenker said. He urged them to contact authorities.

The event recorder revealed the train was going about 39 mph as it approached the workers. When the train was about 600 feet away, or roughly 12 seconds away, the operator sounded the horn.

The operator sounded the horn again when the train was about 50 feet away, or about 11/2 seconds away, before applying the brakes. The train stopped 15 seconds later.

The operator, a Metro employee since 1999, was taken for mandatory drug and alcohol testing. The results of the tests were not made public yesterday.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the agency’s internal probe was ongoing.

Event recorders are not required on transit trains. However, Metro equipped most of its trains with the recorders on the safety board’s recommendation after a 1996 crash at the Shady Grove station killed a train operator.

Katie Nichols contributed to this report.

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