Work Accident Kills WMATA Contractor

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A contractor was killed and two transit authority employees were injured in a work accident shortly after midnight Sunday in Washington, D.C.’s subway system.

In the hours after the fatal accident, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metro, announced welding equipment may have ignited leaking hydraulic fluid -- causing an explosion and fire on the tracks between two downtown subway stations. But later in the day the transit authority released a statement saying the root cause was not determined.

"It is not yet known if there was a fluid leak or another mechanical issue," the statement said.

The contractor who was killed worked for the Holland Company, a firm that provides rail welding services. A Metro spokeswoman says the two injured Metro employees were in stable condition. One worker as released from a hospital Sunday afternoon.

The incident occurred in a work zone between the Union Station and Judiciary Square stations, about 400 feet from the Union Station platform, according to Metro's preliminary findings.  A fire and "loud noise" were heard at 12:03 a.m. about 80 feet from the rail workers, causing a 40-foot section of rail to move and strike the three men, killing contractor Harold Ingram, 41.

Metro Transit Police and the transit authority's safety personnel investigated the accident, suspending the extensive track work that had closed several downtown stations over the weekend. WMATA notified the Tri-State Oversight Committee and the National Transportation Safety Board.

However, the NTSB is unable to investigate the accident because its staff have been furloughed because of the partial government shutdown affecting 800,000 federal workers. 

"Due to a lapse in funding, NTSB staff are furloughed. The agency can only engage in those activities necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life or for the protection of property. After careful consideration it was determined that this accident did not meet the criteria for exempting employees from furlough. The NTSB has requested that WMATA provide their investigation report to the NTSB for evaluation in the future," the NTSB said.

Metro’s safety record has come under intense scrutiny since a 2009 crash killed nine people. Several other mishaps led to federal safety recommendations that WMATA is still implementing.