- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

Metro is investigating whether faulty tunnel construction, a design flaw or sabotage caused a steel door to fall onto the subway tracks, where it was struck by a train and sparked a fire that sent three passengers to the hospital Tuesday night.

"That's something we are looking at … the design and construction of that section," said Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann. "That's what our investigation is focusing on."

Mr. Feldmann said the incident is abnormal and rare, adding that investigators are also looking at possible sabotage. But there is no preliminary evidence indicating someone vandalized the door, he added.

The steel door and the frame that holds it are recessed into the tunnel's concrete wall to prevent them from obstructing or falling onto the tracks. The door somehow worked itself loose from the wall of the tunnel on the Green Line

"We check those doors regularly," a Metro worker said. "They are very heavy doors. I can't believe that happened. Someone probably didn't install it correctly."

The worker said it is unlikely that the door and its frame could have deteriorated in the seven years the tunnel has been in use.

Mr. Feldmann said Metro also has begun a comprehensive survey of the conditions of its subway lines and its equipment to determine if there are other problems that could affect the safety of passengers and employees.

"We are planning to identify and prioritize maintenance of our infrastructure and facility. We want to go out and fix things that need to be fixed before they become a problem to our system," he said.

Tuesday's Metro fire the eighth reported this month occurred about 9 p.m. on the inbound tracks of the Green Line between the College Park and the Prince George's Plaza stations.

The steel door and frame, which were located in the underground tunnel about 2,000 feet south of the College Park station, fell onto the tracks. A four-car train with 27 passengers struck the door and frame, which became entangled in the wheels of the train's second car.

"When the train made contact with the door, the fire was generated and damaged the undercarriage," Mr. Feldmann said. "The fire was quickly extinguished. It produced some smoke that made it into the train."

Three passengers were taken to Prince George's Hospital Center for treatment of smoke inhalation; a fourth was treated at the scene.

Mr. Feldmann said the passengers had to wait about an hour before a second train was brought to the parallel track so passengers could be evacuated. He said it took until about 11 p.m. for all the passengers to be removed and dropped off at the Greenbelt Metrorail station.

The Prince George's County Fire Department was dispatched to fight the fire but by the time they arrived, a Metro employee had extinguished the blaze.

The Green Line fire is the first involving passenger injuries in a rash of incidents that have beset the transit authority since Metro supervisors directed a passenger-filled train into a smoky tunnel near the Foggy Bottom station on April 20.

Customers have expressed concern for their safety and ire over delays.

"Metro's always been convenient for me," said John Thomas of Columbia, Md. "It's given me a second thought about riding. Overall, it's left me with some concerns."

"I used to live in New York so this is nothing," said D.C. resident Brian Bonnar. "It has gotten worse, though. The level of service has definitely been interrupted by the stoppage, and I've been affected by those."

Mr. Bonnar said he had been delayed several times coming home from work.

"It's just annoyed me because it's been causing delays all over," said Thomas Coleman, a College Park resident and frequent Metro rider. "I ride from [College Park] to Woodley Park and it seems like there are delays every other day."

• Jennifer Surface and Derek Simmonsen contributed to this report.

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