- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lamont Lewis worked for Metro for six years, but he had been a train operator just 10 months when his out-of-service train began rolling backward toward the Woodley Park station in November 2004.

By the time it traveled nearly 2,250 feet, the train’s speed had increased to about 36 mph when it hit a six-car Red Line train picking up passengers.

“The only thing that kept this accident from being catastrophic was the time of day that it occurred,” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Debbie Hersman said yesterday of the midday crash Nov. 3, 2004.

She spoke during a public hearing to review the findings of a yearlong federal investigation into the wreck that injured 20 persons and caused more than $3 million in damage.

Investigators found that Mr. Lewis had 78 seconds between the time his train began sliding backward until it hit the other train.

“He could have stopped it at any time, by just applying the emergency brake,” said Mark V. Rosenker, acting NTSB chairman.

Instead, Mr. Lewis tried a series of braking and acceleration maneuvers to try to stop the rollback.

Within days of the accident, the transit agency issued a series of safety memos outlining new rollback procedures.

“Every operator has been retrained on rollback protection,” Steve Feil, Metro’s chief operating officer for rail, said yesterday.

No matter how much power was applied, the rollback couldn’t have been prevented once the speed of the train exceeded 2 mph, NTSB member Kathyrn O’Leary Higgins said. They found that once the speed began escalating, the emergency brake should have been used.

Mr. Lewis suffered from acid reflux, a gastrointestinal condition that can spark coughing spells disrupting sleep, and the NTSB found that fatigue could have been a contributing factor. He was fired six weeks after the accident for what Metro called a “gross violation” of procedures.

“The operator failed to apply the brakes because he wasn’t alert,” Fred Goodine, Metro’s assistant general manager, said yesterday. Transit officials are trying to devise a proposal for mandatory rest periods to present to the union.

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