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DC Transit: Who is behind the wheel?

It has been a dangerous and deadly few months for the commuters of Washington, D.C.

Since November of 2006, citizens of the D.C. metropolitan area have seen train derailments, transit worker deaths, fires on the rail lines, and multiple accidents involving Metro buses that have resulted in fatalities.

November 30: Two transit workers performing routine maintenance on the tracks at Eisenhower Avenue Station are struck from behind and killed instantly by an empty four car passenger train. According to investigators, the driver of the train was performing in a manner that was “..inconsistent with the operating protocol.”

January 8: A metro train carrying more than 100 passengers jumped the tracks at the Mount Vernon Square Station. 18 passengers were injured.

January 16: A woman is struck and killed by a Metrobus taking a left turn onto Park Road NW.

February 1st: A bomb squad is brought into examine a suspicious package at the Braddock Road station in Alexandria. Alexandria Police Officers arrived on the scene to investigate, and called the Metro Police to inquire about the possibility of obtaining a bomb-sniffing dog. The Metro police dispatcher "stated that they did not have a bomb dog assisting" and hung up. Later on that same day, an electrical short at the Farragut North station caused a fire on the tracks which shut down service three times over the course of the day.

February 14: Two female pedestrians were struck and killed by a Metrobus while crossing Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 6:39 p.m. The two women had the right of way. The driver has since been charged with negligent homicide.

February 18: A pedestrian was struck by a Metro bus and fatally injured in the Congress Heights area of Southeast.

February 24: A stroller carrying a small child was reportedly struck by a Metrobus in Southwest Washington. The 3-year-old was seen at a hospital and released.

This is a nightmarish state of affairs, made worse by poor communication and poorly trained drivers and train operators. According to the Washington Post, bus drivers continued to engage in reckless and negligent behavior only one day after receiving a memo from the transit authority urging greater attention to safety and responsible driving. Drivers ran red lights, sped, chatted on cell phones and engaged in lengthy conversations with passengers instead of keeping both hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

On January 26, 2007, John Catoe was sworn in as the new manager of WMATA. In his first official meeting, Catoe said that Metro would “take whatever steps are necessary to ensure this system is safe for our customers and employees."

Although it is still very early in his tenure as WMATA’s manager, we have to say that it has not been successful so far. Surely new implementations of safety procedures take time, but considering this incredible record of fires, delays, accidents and deaths, we have to assume that he has either made no new implementations, or the changes that he has made have been largely toothless.

Driving a public transit vehicle is more than just a job. It is a responsibility that demands discipline, attention to detail and an unwavering commitment to public safety. That means that drivers should not be allowed to even carry cell phones on their routes. Monitoring systems should be in place to ensure that drivers don’t speed or run red lights. And drivers should be required to take refresher courses in the safe operation of their vehicles. As of right now, none of these systems are in place. The only way that WMATA officials are made aware of traffic violations by their drivers are if they get caught doing so or if they volunteer this information themselves. So far, this “honor system” of reporting driver misconduct has not been working.

Bob Battle offers agressive legal counsel for those that have been injured due to no fault of thier own, and that includes people that have been injured due to negligence by transit drivers or city workers. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to the incompetence of someone else, contact our offices for a free legal consultaion today.

Bob Battle
100% of my practice is devoted to serious traffic defense and criminal litigation in state and federal courts