Metro (WMATA)

Metro Watchdog Safety Report Flags Fatigued Train Operators

Almost 17 years after a Metro crash that injured 20 people, a new report says the transit agency still isn’t doing enough to ensure that employees are rested and physically fit for the job

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NBC Washington

Metro’s train and bus operators could be coming to the job tired and physically unfit to perform their duties, according to a report issued Tuesday by the transit agency’s top safety watchdog. 

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission flagged potential safety risks related to fatigued operators. Some of this could be because workers aren’t getting enough time off between shifts. 

In 2004, a Metro train at the Woodley Park station on the Red Line rolled backward thousands of feet. It crashed into another train, injuring 20 people. Video footage shows twisted, mangled wreckage. 

“It felt like an explosion. Everyone started running and screaming,” one man said. 

The train operator was found to have been tired and not alert, likely because of a lack of sleep. 

Almost 17 years later, the report issued Tuesday says Metro still isn’t doing enough to ensure that employees are rested and physically fit for the job.


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“There are opportunities to improve the program to ensure that [operators] are as well rested as they can be. Again, this is a systemic audit – and we look at the systems, trying to give Metro every opportunity to prevent a safety event like a crash before it happens,” safety commission spokesman Max Smith said.

In addition to the 2004 crash, the safety commission pointed to lesser-known examples of train operator fatigue, including when workers have fallen asleep at the switch. 

Metro is reviewing the report and will respond with changes, a representative said. 

The transit agency has 30 days to address the issues.

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