A 60-year-old Metro operator was struck and killed by a subway train while crossing the tracks in a maintenance yard early yesterday morning, becoming the first fatality in the system's 10-year history.
Walter James Wilson of the 3200 block of Normount Ave. in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Rosemont was declared dead at the scene, said Dianna Rosborough, spokeswoman for the Mass Transit Administration.
A 38-year veteran of the transit system, Mr. Wilson was struck at 4:24 a.m. at MTA's yard at Wabash Avenue and Northern Parkway while walking from one Metro train to another.
He had been assigned to the first train but found it was inoperative because the doors in one car were not working properly. Mr. Wilson was assigned to a different train but failed to reach it.
The train that struck Mr. Wilson was ferrying Metro station attendants to their assigned stations. Ms. Rosborough said the operator never saw Mr. Wilson, nor did he realize that he had struck someone.
"He realized he may have hit something, but he wasn't sure," Ms. Rosborough said. "He stopped the train, but he didn't see anything. He continued on to Charles Center."
It was only after a supervisor was unable to reach Mr. Wilson on the radio and an employee was dispatched to look for him that Mr. Wilson's body was discovered along the tracks.
The train that hit him was running between 40 and 50 mph, the normal speed for the main line through the yard.
One strong possibility, officials said, is that Mr. Wilson tripped as he was hurrying across the steel tracks or stumbled on the surrounding ballast, the chunks of crushed stone that hold the railroad ties in place.
A report issued late yesterday by the state medical examiner found no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Mr. Wilson's body, or any indication that he had suffered a heart attack or some other disabling medical condition before the accident.
"This job can be dangerous," said Doyal A. Alther Jr., 53, of Pasadena, a fellow Metro operator. "You have to be on the ball. You have to be careful."
The operator of the train that struck Mr. Wilson was not charged in the incident. He was administered a drug and alcohol test, a standard procedure in accidents involving injury, and has been offered counseling.
"He's very upset," said Lee A. Harvin, Metro's superintendent of rail transportation.
At the Wabash yard where subway cars are washed, cleaned and serviced, many employees were visibly distressed yesterday. They said Mr. Wilson was one of the facility's most loved workers, a bearish, white-haired man who loved to joke and talk about sports.
"He was a very gentle, loving guy who got along with everybody," said Willie J. Nix, 61, a 39-year transit veteran. "He talked a lot about sports and politics. He hoped we'd get an NFL team."
Known as "W. W." to his co-workers, Mr. Wilson had driven Metro trains since the system opened on Nov. 21, 1983. Before that, he was a bus driver.
He began his career in 1957 for what was then the Baltimore Transit Co.
"He was always cutting up," said Mr. Alther. "We're going to miss that."
A state flag flew at half mast at all MTA facilities yesterday.
In a letter to MTA employees, Administrator John A. Agro Jr. mourned Mr. Wilson as a man "doing his job consistently well, exemplifying the Metro tradition of reliable performance."
Mr. Agro said that in addition to the MTA's investigation he has requested an independent investigation by a representative of the American Public Transit Association, a D.C.-based trade group.
"Given the serious nature of this, I want to be absolutely certain nothing was overlooked," Mr. Agro said. "We wanted an independent group to come in and look at it, and they have agreed to do it."