Metro Green Line rider had front row seat on stranded train

Robert Thomson
Columnist July 13, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was a passenger on the stalled Green Line train on July 3. In fact, I was in the left front seat of the front car. And my memory of what happened that day is closer to what the other passenger had to say [Dr. Gridlock, July 8] than the official Metro version.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

After the train stalled, the operator tried unsuccessfully to restart it. She had trouble getting hold of Metro control. After she did, she informed the passengers that a rescue train had been dispatched to push us to College Park. A few minutes later, she informed us that the rescue train suffered a similar fate leaving the Prince George’s Plaza station. Our train, without air conditioning because of this power outage, sat in the sweltering sun.

One of the passengers asked if she would please open the door to the passenger compartment as well. She complied, but as the operator stated, there wasn’t much of a breeze.

After the announcement about the stuck rescue train, we were informed that third-rail power was down and the operator didn’t know when power would be restored.

Someone asked the operator if we could leave the train and walk to the College Park station. She said something to the effect of, “I can’t tell you not to” and “Go ahead” (although my memory could be slightly off), and then she walked to the other cars.

At this time, people opened the center set of doors on the right (not the third rail side) of the train and began leaving. Two people helped those who needed a hand getting down the three or so feet to the ground. Passengers in other cars were doing similar things.

After I was more than 150 feet from the train, a Metro Transit Police officer came from the College Park station and told us the third rail was live. I clearly saw the sleeve patch with the three jurisdictions and WMATA’s name. He informed those of us off the train not to get back on, but I thought I heard him say he would tell those on the train not to evacuate. He also told those walking down the center of the tracks where to cross without going over the third rail.

I was asked by the local fire department personnel whether I was injured. The College Park station manager apologized for the inconvenience and informed us that shuttles would take us to Greenbelt. The shuttles showed up quickly. All things considered, the evacuation of that train was fairly orderly.

The experience on July 6 [elsewhere on the Green Line on trains affected by the West Hyattsville derailment] was different. To put it mildly, it was chaotic. I was on a train that left Gallery Place around 4:45 p.m. We were delayed at several stations and informed that the train ahead of us was turning around at Fort Totten. Then we were told we would off-load at Fort Totten.

We waited for at least a half-hour before the first shuttle bus arrived. The crowd grew even larger. There was no one from Metro who kept us informed as to when buses would arrive and where to line up.

The buses seemed not to know either as they pulled over to board in more than one location. I made my way to the front of a line for one bus only to have the next one start boarding several feet away. I was unable to board that one, either.

It was frightening at one point as the mob seemed to stampede. Several people were there in the sun with children. I was outside in the heat and sun for at least 45 minutes to an hour before boarding. I didn’t get home until after 8 p.m.

— Ryan Wilson, Silver Spring

Pick your poison. Each illustrates a too-slow response, though I think the stranding put riders at greater risk. Rider accounts differ on some details but not on the substance of what happened.

During a rather short discussion of these serious two incidents at a Metro Board safety committee meeting Thursday, transit officials pledged to treat a stranding more like the emergency that it is and organize relief much more quickly.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

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