Operator in D.C. train crash saved lives, Metro chief says

There is evidence Jeanice McMillan applied an emergency brake. There is evidence Jeanice McMillan applied an emergency brake.
Associated Press / June 27, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The train operator killed this week in a Washington rail crash is a hero who saved lives, the Metro transit agency’s general manager said yesterday.

John Catoe told relatives, friends, and colleagues at a Washington church that Jeanice McMillan, 42, of Springfield, Va., will be known as “the Metro hero.’’ He predicted investigators will ultimately determine that her actions “saved lives.’’

Federal investigators have said there is evidence that McMillan applied an emergency brake before her train plowed into another, killing her and eight passengers. Monday’s crash was the deadliest in the rail system’s 33-year history.

Also yesterday, agency officials said they have temporarily reassigned the superintendent of the automatic control system that is supposed to prevent train crashes. McMillan’s train was operating in automatic mode, which means it was primarily controlled by a computer.

Matthew Matyuf, who led the Automatic Train Control Division, has been temporarily assigned to a “special project,’’ Metro officials said. They would not elaborate on what that project was. The reassignment is not an indication of any wrongdoing, spokeswoman Candace Smith said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that Metro’s signaling system failed to detect a test train stopped in the same place as one that was struck during this week’s deadly crash.

Test results indicate the oncoming train involved in Monday’s crash may have lacked information that another train was stopped on the tracks ahead. About 70 people were injured.

The NTSB has requested McMillan’s cellphone records, a routine procedure to determine whether she was using it at the time of the crash. Metro officials said McMillan’s phone was found inside a backpack.