What is it with the Washington Metro?
The deaths of two Washington Metro workers in an overnight incident near Rockville adds to a growing list of fatalities on a subway system that has been repeatedly criticized for iits safety lapses.
The deaths of the two track workers follow a bloody 2009 on the Washington subway tracks, which saw a series of employee fatalities as well as the worst single crash in the syatem's history -- a collision of two trains on the Red Line last summer that killed eight passengers and a train operator.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which has previously chastised Metro for its safety performance, quickly announced it would investigate the double fatality, which occurred about 1:45 a.m. a few blocks from the Rockville Metro station.
A representative of the workers' union, Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 699, identified the two men as Jeffrey Garrard and Sung 0h, noth automatic train technicians and longtime Metro employees.
The safety issues raised by a series of crashes come at a time when the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is struggling with a leadership vacuum left by the resignation of its chief executive, a continuing controversy about how the system is governed and one of the worst budget crunches in the system's history. WMATA is holding a public meeting this week at which it will ask riders to choose from a menu of unpalatable options that include fare increases, service cuts and deferred capital spending.
Early this month, Metro chief executive John Catoe, who had arrived amid high hopes three years ago, announced plans to leave the job this spring. His resignation came amid inhcreasing criticism of his inability to turn around Metro's safety performance.
Nine people were killed June 22 when a Metro Train on the Red Line failled to stop for a preceding train that had stopped on the tracks near Fort Totten.
Since then, five Metro employees, including this morning's victims, and one subcontractor have died on the job. In addition, three Metro employees were injured in a November incident in which one train rain into another in a railyard in Northern Virginia.
In an incident last month. a team of track inspectors was reported to have been nearly run over by a speeding train.
Under the circumstances, it would strain credibility to write off these occurrences as isolated events. There appears to be a severe cultural problem with safety in the Washington Metro system -- an issue the NTSB is virtually certain to address.