Two Metro workers were struck and killed early Tuesday by a large truck that was backing down the track just north of the Rockville station, officials said, deepening a crisis that has afflicted the transit agency for much of the past year.
The fatal crash is the latest in a series of accidents that have led members of Congress to question the safety of Metro operations and prompted the Obama administration to call for federal control of safety regulation of subways and light rail systems. Five Metro workers have died on the tracks in the past seven months.
The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a formal investigation into Tuesday's crash - an indication of the seriousness of the accident, since the agency does not always take the lead role in probing rail fatalities. The NTSB is already conducting full-scale investigations of the June 22 Red Line crash and a November accident at a Northern Virginia rail yard.
Stephen Klejst, the NTSB's lead investigator into Tuesday's accident, said the operator of the truck, known as a high-rail vehicle, was maneuvering it backward down the track from the Shady Grove station to the Rockville station when it hit technicians Jeff Garrard, 49, of Clarksburg and Sung Duk Oh, 68, of Montgomery Village. Garrard and Oh were installing equipment on the tracks to enable trains to communicate with one another and with headquarters, officials said. A four-man crew in the truck had been installing cover boards over the electrified third rail, although power had been turned off, Klejst said. Klejst said the details were based on preliminary information from Metro.
Anthony Garland, chief safety officer for the union that represents most Metro employees, said a communication problem appears to have happened between the department in charge of the truck on the track and the Automatic Train Control department, whose technicians were installing new train control equipment in the track bed.
"We want to know why there wasn't better communication out there," said Garland, of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 689, after being briefed on the crash.
Klejst said he did not know whether each crew knew the other was on the tracks, but determining that information will be part of the federal probe.
Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the truck does not emit a beeping noise when it travels in reverse on rails.
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