ROCKVILLE, Md. – Two Metro workers were struck and killed by a maintenance truck on a track Tuesday, the latest in a string of fatalities since last year in the Washington area's transit system.
The men were installing safety equipment on a track that was closed to regular service for the night when they were hit, Metro said. One worker died at the scene, a few blocks from the Rockville Metro Station, and the other on the way to a hospital.
Both men were automatic train control technicians and the crash involved a large truck equipped to drive on the track when electricity is shut down, Metro said. The agency said it would release the men's names after their families were notified.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene, Metro said.
The Metro system, which extends into the suburbs to link the capital with neighboring areas of Maryland and Virginia, has seen a series of fatal accidents and mishaps since last year. The worst was a June crash that killed eight passengers and the train operator. Two other workers were killed in separate accidents last year.
Last month, a team of inspectors was nearly hit by a train that Metro officials say was traveling too fast. Three workers were hurt in November when a train returning to a northern Virginia rail yard hit a parked train.
The latest accident came about two weeks after Metro held a three-day workshop on track safety with experts from around the country.
"We have intensified safety — there's no question about it, partly in light of the deaths of the two employees," Metro board chairman Jim Graham told WTOP radio Tuesday. "There's a lot that's been put into this, but something went terribly wrong this morning."
Tuesday's deaths occurred at about 1:45 a.m. The accident disrupted the morning rush for many commuters from Maryland as red line service was shut down between the Shady Grove and Twinbrook stations while the crash was investigated. Shuttles service was being provided between the stations.
The employees who were killed were installing new automatic train control equipment in the track bed. A failure in the automatic train control system, which detects the presence of a train on the track, is believed to have contributed to the June crash. However, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the work being done Tuesday morning was routine maintenance.
In addition to the string of accidents, Metro faces an uncertain budget picture and will likely have to raise fares or cut service. The agency's general manager, John Catoe, unexpectedly announced his resignation earlier this month. Catoe joined the agency three years ago, pledging to make safety the No. 1 priority. His last day will be April 2.
Graham said safety would be strengthened if the federal government established safety standards for transit agencies.
Last month, the Obama administration asked Congress to give the Federal Transit Administration authority to impose safety standards on subways, light rail and other urban train systems. Current law prohibits the federal government from doing so.