Metro Says Safety Rules Don't Apply

Article excerpt

Metro is free to ignore all federal safety regulations limiting the amount of hours its drivers work, a Metro attorney said in response to a $2 million lawsuit filed by the family of a girl who was run over and killed by a fatigued bus operator.

Antwannette Jackson, a 16-year-old Duke Ellington School for the Arts student, was killed Dec. 9, 1995, when she was struck by a Metro bus at the Brookland Metrorail station and dragged under the bus 75 feet. The bus operator, Joey Tyrone Watson, 42, had worked 11 hours that day, which the lawsuit says is in violation of federal regulations restricting the number of hours bus drivers work to 10 hours.

Although Metro officials determined driver fatigue was a contributing factor to the accident, Metro's Assistant General Counsel Lisa D. Fentress said in the agency's response that the amount of time Mr. Watson worked was irrelevant because the transit agency is exempt from the federal laws.

She noted in the June 27, 1997, pleading that the transit authority can ignore federal safety laws because when Congress established the agency it exempted Metro from the safety regulations.

Cheryl Johnson, Metro spokeswoman, said yesterday that she could not comment on the case because it is a pending legal matter and added that the transit agency complied with "all applicable laws, rules and regulations." But she refused to comment on whether Metro followed federal rules for the amount of time its operators work.

Miss Fentress' comments were found in D.C. Superior Court records at a time when fatigue of Metro train and bus operators has become an issue in the wake of an accident on Monday when a train operator blanked out and ran his six-car train through a barricade and into a building at the Greenbelt Maintenance Yard.

The Washington Times reported this week that because of long, monotonous hours, train operators fall asleep while driving their trains at speeds of as fast as 59 miles per hour. The Times also learned that the transit authority, which has been plagued with numerous safety problems, has never established any regulations that monitor the amount of time its operators work.

Train operators said they can work shifts as long as 16 hours, seven days a week and Metro concedes that operators each work an average of 300 hours of overtime per year. …