James Knell, a subway worker from East Rockaway, was killed...

James Knell, a subway worker from East Rockaway, was killed early Monday when he was electrified by the third rail, according to MTA officials. (April 26, 2010) Credit: Brian Branch Price

A subway worker from East Rockaway working on rain-slicked tracks died Monday when he touched the high-voltage third rail, according to MTA officials.

James Knell, a veteran MTA New York City Transit supervisor, was on elevated tracks at the Beach 90th Street Station in Rockaway at about 4:30 a.m. when he was electrocuted, according to MTA officials.

"There is speculation that he slipped and fell and touched the rail but that's still under investigation," said MTA Transit spokesman James Anyansi. Steady rain fell over the Rockaways through the morning.

Knell, 45, has been a transit employee for 13 years, nine of them as a supervisor, according to the MTA. Reached by phone, a family member called him "a good man" and declined to comment further.

Knell is the third MTA worker to die on the job since 2007. He is survived by his wife and two stepchildren, the agency said.

"We lost one of our own this morning and labeling this incident a tragedy is a painful statement of the obvious," said MTA NYC Transit president Thomas Prendergast in a statement. "The Office of System Safety and the Department of Subways has begun an investigation into this incident to both determine a cause and to ensure we prevent a recurrence."

Monday, Knell was supervising a crew replacing tracks as part of a rehabilitation project at and around several Rockaway stations. When Knell touched the 600-volt rail, he was helping clear out for the 5 a.m. rush-hour opening of a section of the A line that was out of service over the weekend. Service on a section of the A line was suspended while MTA workers and investigators reviewed the scene.

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