- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

Metro crews have cleared most of the wreckage from Wednesday’s Red Line subway crash, but major delays continued through yesterday’s rush hours.

One car remained on the track as of last night at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station, but Metro officials were confident it would be removed and service could return to normal today.

Lisa Farbstein, Metro spokeswoman, said when the last car involved in the accident is removed, test trains will be sent through the tunnel to make sure there is no damage to the tracks.

Miss Farbstein said Metro was hopeful that it could resume regular service last night or at least by early this morning.

The cars removed from the station, in the 2600 block of Connecticut Avenue NW, and the debris from the crash, were taken to Metro’s Brentwood maintenance yard in Northeast yesterday for additional analysis.

The rail yard includes a powered test track and other equipment which could be useful in dissecting suspect equipment from the damaged trains. A final report may not be completed for several months, officials said.

Until the track at the station is tested, Metro will continue to bypass the crash scene by running eight-car trains on a single track from Dupont Circle, south of the station, to the Van Ness-UDC station, two stations to the north.

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

The crash 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.

The crash injured 20 persons who were treated and released at five D.C. hospitals. The damage is estimated at $1.5 million.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting an investigation of the crash. Investigators completed their on-scene investigation Thursday afternoon and were conducting interviews of personnel in Metro’s operations center yesterday.

It remains unclear what caused the accident, but NTSB member Debbie Hersman said it was likely a combination of factors.

She said investigators think the track was not a factor in the crash. She said a rollback protection system did not engage and stop the train from going backward and that the operator of the empty train said the disc brakes failed.

“We don’t know if this was a human error or if this was a mechanical error,” she said. “The brakes need to work, and they need to be applied properly.”

She said the operator of the runaway train, Lamont Lewis, told investigators that he applied three different types of braking systems.

Miss Hersman said the unoccupied train left the station about two minutes before the occupied train arrived. The second train sat on the platform for about 30 seconds loading and unloading passengers. She said Mr. Lewis told investigators an over-speed indicator sounded in the unoccupied train as it was climbing a 3.7 percent incline in the tunnel.

Mr. Lewis, a Metro employee since 1997 who has been a train operator for seven months, said he applied the brakes and tried to accelerate again but could not get up the incline. At that point, the train started to drift backward.

Miss Hersman said there was no way to say how fast the unoccupied train was moving or how far it had travelled before the crash. The trains are not equipped with data-record boxes like those in airplanes that can provide key information after an accident. She also said the over-speed alarm is not triggered at a specific speed but is programmed to consider track condition and proximity to other trains.

Calvert Sawyers, 58, was operating the occupied train, which had about 77 passengers on board. Mr. Sawyers has been an employee of the transit system since 1978 and has been operating Red Line trains for eight years.

Investigators said Thursday the drivers passed blood-alcohol tests, but they could not confirm yesterday whether they had passed drug tests.

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