- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A broken piece of Metro escalator injured five people Tuesday, sending several commuters to the hospital and setting off conflicting stories between transit officials and witnesses about what caused the early morning mayhem.

At about 8:30 a.m., a metal panel along one of the L’Enfant Plaza station escalators tore away from its frame, cutting and scraping five riders. Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said three of those people were taken to a hospital while two were treated at the scene. None of the injuries was considered life-threatening.

And that’s where the similarities end between the two reports end.

According to the transit agency’s side of the story, a woman riding down the escalator placed a “mid- to large-size bag” on the top of the panel, which covers wheels and other pieces of the moving stairs.

“The bag became caught in the seam of two panels, when it dragged and pulled, the panel became dislodged and in turn became a disruption,” Mr. Stewart said. Metro’s account of the incident came from witnesses and some injured riders’ reports, he said.

The escalator, which runs between tracks for the Green and Yellow lines and Blue and Orange lines, was shut down for further investigation and repair.

Metro rider Rachel Frankel saw a much different scene.

The D.C. lawyer said commuters were already having to step around the dislodged panel before it tripped up the woman with the bag and the four others around her.

“It was flopping around, rattling around,” Ms. Frankel said. “Even if the bag had gotten caught — which I didn’t see, I saw a leg get caught on it — it was still hanging in the middle of the escalator.”

Lacey Arvin also said that she saw the loose panel as she made her way through the station.

The panel was “bouncing on the escalator making a loud banging noise,” she said. “Metro gave us no choice but to use that escalator. It was the only one going down to the second level. The other two went up.”

Steven Daters, who commutes from Alexandria to McPherson Square, said that “with the rush-hour bustle, it was simply not possible for anyone to notice the metal unit until it would’ve been too late. At that point, it’s not possible to exit the escalator with the crowds.”

Mr. Daters said he made his way down the escalator without incident, but only a minute later, “the escalator began to make a loud rattle. I then noticed the metal guarding on the side of the escalator vibrating and shaking.”

Waiting for her train several feet away from the broken escalator, Kristi Taylor said she wasn’t surprised to hear of another issue on a Metro escalator, but she acknowledged that “this could happen to anyone, something getting caught.”

Last year Metro announced a systemwide overhaul of its escalators, including the replacement of more than 150 of them.

One of the most notable escalator malfunctions also took place at the L’Enfant station in 2010, when brakes on one of the escalators gave way under a crowd of people who had just left a rally on the Mall. The brake failure injured several riders as they landed in a pile at the foot of the fast-moving stairs. The incident prompted a systemwide escalator review.

“There’s always something broken, they’re always turning a blind eye to things” said Anacostia resident Tiffany Curry as she waited for her Green Line train at the L’Enfant station. “I’ve been to New York and they have the raggediest system, but guess what? They don’t have the issues we deal with here.”