On May 14, 2006, a Metro employee died.
There are about 10,000 active and retired members of our union so this isn’t unusual. We probably lose an average of 5 or 6 people every month. What was unusual is that he was killed on the job.
His name was Jong Lee. Not only was he a Metro employee, he was a member of my department, Automatic Train Control or ATC. Jong was with a crew of 3 other ATC techs at Dupont Circle, an underground station south of Shady Grove on the Red Line. One of them was in the Train Control Room (TCR) and Jong and the other 2 were on the tracks doing routine work that we all do on a regular basis. They were in an area where trains can cross over from one track to the other, known as an ‘interlocking’. There is very little space between the tracks there — just enough room for a person to stand. No safety railing, just vertical poles spaced a few feet apart. Everyone who is familiar with this area has told me it makes them nervous. The first time I saw it I remember thinking that I wouldn’t want to be stuck there.
Trains were running normally, which meant the crew had to ‘stand clear’ frequently. At one point a train was leaving the station, outbound toward Shady Grove, while at the same time a train was coming inbound on the opposite track. The noise and wind from two trains passing in a tunnel is intense. All three of them stood in the center facing the outbound track as the inbound train passed at about 40 mph.
After the trains had gone by, Jong’s co-workers noticed he had disappeared. At first they didn’t realize what had happened. Then they heard the passengers on the platform screaming and saw them passing out. Jong had apparently taken one step back to assure he would be clear of the outbound train and stepped into the path of the inbound one. The operator said he heard a loud ‘boom’ followed by a flash of light. He hit the ’emergency stop’ button (or ‘mushroom’). After the train came to a stop he moved up to the platform (apparently unaware that he had hit someone). Jong’s co-workers were in shock and had to be led off the tracks (one was attempting to go back to work as if everything was ok).
The NTSB came to do their investigation and what was left of Jong’s body was removed. Metro supervisors filled out their ‘Incident Reports’. Trains were back in service within a few hours.
A couple days later, a crew was sent to Dupont Circle to do some maintenance. One of them was one of the two guys who were with Jong when he was killed. He was still exhibiting the symptoms of psychological problems — having a hard time walking and suffering from headaches but they sent him there anyway. The other members of the crew told him to stay in the TCR while they went wayside to do the work. There was very little evidence of what had happened — the interlocking had been hosed down — just a few broken third rail cover boards and three letters written in spray paint on the concrete — POI.
The funeral was the following Saturday. Jong was 49 years old and left a wife and three young daughters.
For anyone who’s interested, the NTSB report is here. It isn’t very long (8 pages) and has a diagram on page 5 showing the interlocking and where Jong and the other two techs were standing.