- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

A crash involving two Metro trains at a Connecticut Avenue station yesterday sent 20 passengers to hospitals and created yet another round of long delays for thousands of Metro commuters.

“It was just pandemonium,” said Matthew Williams, 23, a D.C. resident and passenger on one of the Red Line trains.

The collision is the latest in a series of operational and managerial mistakes for the transit agency, which has a $1.29 billion budget this fiscal year.

“We have had an avalanche of bad events with attendant bad publicity, and it’s no wonder that public confidence is down,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, also a member of Metro’s board of directors. “We can’t win for losing.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of yesterday’s crash. The Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station where the accident occurred will remain closed at least through today, which could cause delays in the morning rush hour.

Just in the past several weeks, Metro has had numerous other problems.

• On Sunday, mechanical breakdowns and signal problems on the Blue and Yellow lines caused delays up to 40 minutes during the Marine Corps Marathon. And several waiting passengers fainted on the platforms from heat exhaustion.

• On Oct. 22, a 54-inch horizontal crack in a rail closed the Judiciary Square station for about 40 minutes during the morning rush hour — the fourth time this year that a cracked rail has delayed service.

• On Oct. 20, a Metro worker at the agency’s downtown headquarters ignored alarms that fire sprinklers had been set off in the Mount Vernon Square station. The station was closed for more than two hours to morning commuters as workers mopped ankle-deep water.

• On Oct. 10, after a Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field in Landover, train controllers ran just one train an hour on several lines, causing thousands of football fans to sit through long delays on idle trains.

Yesterday’s accident occurred at about 12:49 p.m., when an unoccupied six-car train headed for a rail yard backed into an occupied train that was stopped at the platform in the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station.

Witnesses said the collision was so forceful that it sent the rear car of the empty train into the air, then on top of the front car of the occupied train.

“We were running for our lives,” said passenger Rose Griffin, 51, a D.C. resident who was on the train stopped at the platform.

Part of the unoccupied train was sheared off and chunks of concrete were dislodged from the station’s ceiling.

“If you see the damage, you’ll be astounded that we have had no life-threatening injuries,” said Alan Etter, a D.C. Fire and EMS Department spokesman.

Mr. Etter said there was no fire as a result of the crash, but witnesses said the station filled with smoke. Some witnesses also reported seeing a third train pass through the station on the opposite track, following the crash.

Six commuters and one rail operator were taken to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. Metro and fire officials on the scene said one of the victims may have broken a leg, and one of the train operators was being treated for stress-related injuries.

In addition, 13 teenagers on a field trip from Marriott Charter School were taken as a precaution or with minor injuries to Georgetown University Hospital in the D.C. fire department’s mass casualty ambulance bus.

Metro officials suspended Red Line service between the Van Ness and Dupont Circle stations until about 4 p.m. when trains could run on a single track. Metro offered off-peak fares to all passengers the rest of the day to make up for the delays.

A fleet of 20 shuttle buses transported commuters between the Van Ness and Dupont Circle stations. The line carries about 257,800 passengers a day.

Police also closed Connecticut Avenue to two-way traffic for about an hour.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said a control system monitors the movements of all Metro trains.

“In terms of what happened here, that’s still under investigation,” he said. “This investigation is certainly going to take some time.”

James Gallagher, Metro’s deputy general manager for operations, said an automatic control system that keep trains at a safe distance must have failed.

“The train rolled backward,” he said. “Trains don’t roll backward. There’s something unusual about this event.”

But this is not the first time such an accident has occurred.

A train with passengers in May 2000 rolled about 150 feet after it became stranded on an underground incline just south of the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station.

On Jan. 13, 1982, the same day as Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, a Metro car derailed while the train was being backed through a tunnel south of the Federal Triangle station. The accident killed three persons and injured 25.

Investigations concluded that human operational error was the primary cause of the crash.

Beyond the delays and accidents, Metro has also faced recent bad publicity from two high-profile incidents in which agency police officers were criticized for using excessive measures to deal with passengers who had committed minor violations.

One passenger was subdued, handcuffed and arrested for eating a candy bar as she was entering the Metro Center station on July 16. Another passenger, a pregnant woman, was forced to the ground, handcuffed and taken to a jail cell for speaking loudly and swearing on a cell phone on Sept. 9 at the Wheaton Metro station.

The agency’s financial problems were highlighted in February, when officials reported losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash receipts from its parking lots and garages. An internal audit found cashiers employed by then-contractor Penn Parking stole $500,000 to $1 million a year from cash payments made at parking lots and garages.

In June, rail and bus fares and parking rates were increased for the second time in two years to close a $23.4 million shortfall in the fiscal 2005 budget.

On Friday, officials placed a manager on leave and removed two contract managers after a preliminary audit showed discrepancies in the agency’s transportation service for riders with disabilities. The internal audit showed records could have been altered to earn up to $110,000 a month in performance-based incentives from 2002 to this August.

The last fatality involving a Metro train occurred on Feb. 13, 2001, when a Red Line train heading downtown during rush hour struck and killed a man on the tracks at the Dupont Circle station. The man appeared to be moving toward the median that divides the station’s inbound and outbound tracks, and the accident stalled service in both directions between the Cleveland Park and Farragut North stations for more than four hours.

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