- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

Metro officials reassured riders yesterday that the subway system is safe, despite the crash on Wednesday in which a runaway Red Line train rammed another train and injured 20 persons.

“We know that there have been a series of situations in the last few months that have happened on Metro, but we want to assure our customers that the rail system — and the bus system, for that matter — are safe,” Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation of the crash at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station that left one train on top of another and sent 20 persons to hospitals. The federal agency was expected to complete its on-scene investigation last night. The damage is estimated at $1.5 million.

Metro officials hoped to remove the cars in time for this morning’s rush hour. It was not clear last night whether the cars could be salvaged or whether removing them would require cutting them apart.

The accident occurred Wednesday at 12:49 p.m. when an unoccupied six-car train headed for a rail yard rolled backward down an incline in the tunnel south of the station, gathering momentum until it smashed into an occupied train that was stopped at the station platform.

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.

National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said investigators were looking at the medical records of the two train operators, their training and the design of the rail cars and the tracks around the station. She said investigators also were examining video-surveillance tapes and tapes of conversations between operators and Metro’s control center.

“We’re going to be asking questions about how automatic train operations work, how the manual operations work, and we’ll probably be looking at doing a replication of the accident,” Miss Hersman said.

Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said transportation board officials also had requested 911 tapes from the accident.

Calvert Sawyers, 58, was operating the occupied train, which had about 70 passengers on board. Metro officials said Mr. Sawyers, who has been an employee of the transit system in various capacities since 1979, saw the oncoming train and called for passengers to run to safety.

The driver of the empty train was identified last night as Lamont Lewis, a Metro employee since 1998, who has been a train operator for less than a year, a Metro spokeswoman said.

Miss Hersman said that both trains were being operated manually and that transportation board investigators have interviewed both operators.

She also said Metro officials told investigators that operating trains manually was not unusual during off-peak hours. However, the empty train should not have moved backward. Trains are equipped with systems that keep a safe distance between them and prevent them from rolling backward. A rail operator also can use an emergency or hand brake to stop a train.

Metro reported delays yesterday on the Red Line, which was operating on a single track yesterday at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station in Northwest. A blue tarp and several transit police officers shielded customers from the accident scene, although it was clearly visible from escalators leading to the train platform. Delays on the Red Line are expected to continue throughout today.

Riders waiting on the platform yesterday peered through small openings in the tarp, while others walked up the escalator for a better look. One pulled out a video recorder, while another snapped a photograph with the camera in her cell phone.

“I gave up on going to work today,” said Jacob Vogelstein, 26.

Mr. Vogelstein, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, usually takes the Red Line to Union Station to transfer to the MARC train.

“But between the delays on MARC and the Red Line, there is up to an hour delay, so I just stayed home and worked,” he said.

Mr. Vogelstein said he doesn’t hold Metro accountable for the crash or its other recent problems.

“Stuff happens,” he said. “I feel bad for them, they’ve had some bad luck this year. But I love Metro, it’s still much better than driving.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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