- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

A Metro Green Line train derailed yesterday afternoon near the Mount Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center station, injuring 20 passengers and prompting a massive emergency response, officials said.

The fifth car of a six-car, northbound train crossed a rail switch and left the tracks at about 3:45 p.m., spokeswoman Cathy Asato said.

The most seriously hurt was a male passenger who suffered a head injury that was not considered life-threatening. The other 19 injured had mostly “bumps and bruises,” Mrs. Asato said.

The derailment sent at least one of the cars smashing into the tunnel wall, which sent broken glass, fiberglass, concrete chips and other debris flying inside the cars and into the dark tunnel, said Larry Schultz, acting operations chief for the D.C. Fire Department.

“It’s not easy walking around down there,” Chief Schultz said as a light rain fell and firefighters hurried into the dark tunnel from the station entrance at Seventh and M streets Northwest.

Metro officials say the derailment occurred as the train approached the station. Service was immediately stopped, and the station remained closed well into the night.

Most of the passengers in the front cars escaped onto the station platform without difficulty. But many in the rear cars, which were still in the tunnel and about 100 feet from the platform, needed assistance from firefighters equipped with flashlights. Some were evacuated in wheelchairs and stretchers, including a pregnant woman, who appeared to be OK.

Mrs. Asato said about 150 passengers were on the train. However, fire officials said a more accurate number would be difficult to get because many had left through the station exit before help arrived.

A spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Center said the hospital received seven injured passengers. She said five were treated and released, and two remained under assessment.

Chief Schultz said the fire department received the call within two minutes of the accident and that firefighters were inside the station within five minutes.

“It just stopped,” said 15-year-old passenger Erica Harris. “We got out and walked to the station.”

Chief Schultz said emergency crews were able to separate the first four cars from the wreckage and that the fourth and fifth cars were the most damaged.

National Transportation and Safety Board member Kitty Higgins, who was at the scene late last night, said the primary focus of the investigation would be the rail and the car, but the team also would look at the signals and event recorders that are on each car.

“It’s going to take some time,” she said.

Metro was running trains along one track yesterday between the Mount Vernon and L’Enfant Plaza stations so crews could install communication wire in tunnel walls.

Officials were not sure whether the single tracking, the rail switch or the train crossing the switch could have caused the accident.

“Clearly, that’s something track and structural personnel will assess,” Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Miss Farbstein said the cars are known as the 5000 series and became part of the agency’s fleet from 2001 to 2004. She said the agency has had problems with the cars leaving the track, but not when passengers were on them, and agency officials thought they had resolved the problem.

Metro officials said the operator was a woman who has been with the agency since 2000. She was interviewed and given a drug and alcohol test as part of the agency’s standard procedure after an accident.

At least 15 firetrucks from across the city responded to the accident, which caused additional problems for commuters in Northwest. M Street was closed from Sixth to Ninth streets, and Seventh Street was closed from New York Avenue to P Street.

Shuttle buses were brought in to take Yellow and Green Line passengers from the L’Enfant Plaza to the U Street-Cardozo stations.

On Nov. 3, 2004, 20 Metro passengers were injured in a crash involving two trains at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station on Connecticut Avenue Northwest. An out-of-service train lost its brakes, rolled backward and hit a train at the station platform. A 14-month investigation concluded with the dismissal of the train operator and rollback protection being installed in cars.

Metro’s last derailment occurred in January 2003 near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

In November, two Metro track workers were struck and killed by an out-of-service train in Alexandria. An investigation found the train operator failed to follow procedures. Another Metro worker was struck and killed in May near the Dupont Circle 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.

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