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Apparent Suicide Shuts Metro Tracks Downtown

By Steven Ginsberg and Nicole Fuller
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page B02

A man apparently jumped in front of an Orange Line train at Metro Center and was killed yesterday afternoon, triggering a shutdown of a central portion of the Blue and Orange lines.

Witnesses said a man walked off the platform at Metro Center and landed on the track bed, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said. At 2:06 p.m., the man appeared to be either kneeling or sitting on the track bed between the rails as a six-car Orange Line train bound for New Carrollton pulled into the station, Taubenkibel said.

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Kathleen Williams, 21, of New Carrollton said she heard two women screaming, "Someone's on the track!" and then saw the man lying on the tracks. She said he made no attempt to get up before the train approached.

The operator hit the brake, but by the time the train stopped, the man's body was between the third and fourth rail cars, Taubenkibel said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police were trying to identify him last night.

Transit workers arrived at the platform soon after the incident, advising passengers to take shuttle buses provided by Metro or to find other means of transportation. Electronic signs inside the station advised passengers of the delay.

The lines were shut down between the Farragut West and Federal Triangle stations for three hours, forcing passengers up from underground and into bitter winds to hunt for one of the 40 shuttle buses or seek alternative transportation. Normal service was restored at 5:11 p.m., Deputy General Manager James Gallagher said.

The Orange and Blue lines form the major east-west subway line through the heart of downtown. On a typical weekday, the Orange Line carries 180,000 riders and the Blue Line carries 116,000.

Transit officials were unable to run trains on a single track around the scene of the fatality because of a problem with the train control system in that section of the railroad, Gallagher said.

At McPherson Square, riders heading into the station were unaware that service was suspended. A station manager made announcements, but many passengers, bundled against the freezing temperatures, couldn't hear him.

Messages over the loudspeakers were unintelligible. "The speakers are muzzled," said Gregory Paris, who said he had been waiting 45 minutes for a train. "No one hears anything."

The electronic message signs on the platforms flashed conflicting information, sometimes reporting delays, other times announcing that trains would be arriving in eight minutes or three minutes. But no train would come.

"Nothing's gone by for a half-hour, and I'm getting a little concerned," said Jean Miserendino, who was late for a holiday dinner. After 40 minutes, she gave up and resigned herself to a $25 cab to Alexandria. A little before 5 p.m., most passengers were told they could catch a shuttle bus to stations farther down their lines.

Taubenkibel could not say why some passengers did not get better information.

Metro General Manager Richard A. White has pledged to improve such communication. "It's something we're going to have look into," Taubenkibel said.

Staff writer Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company