"Until we know the exact reasons of this collision, we shouldn't be jumping to any conclusions about whether this was an equipment failure or human failure," said Metro chief executive White, who added that he believes the Metro system is safe. "Absolutely the system is safe," he said. "I don't have any questions in my mind."
The 20 people taken to hospitals suffering from minor bumps and bruises included 13 teenagers from the Marriott Hospitality Public Charter High School in Northwest Washington.
An empty Red Line train crashed into a stopped train at the Woodley Park-Zoo Station in Northwest Washington.
(Michel duCille -- The Washington Post)
Deana Clingerman, 25, and her boyfriend, Nick Harnice, 32, were in the first car of Train 105. They said Sawyers, the operator, emerged from his cab, stood in the doorway of the train and told everyone to get off. "And he's waving his hands. He said it a couple of times," Harnice said. "Most people got off. You can tell the guy was panicked."
Harnice said he lay down behind a bench on the platform. Clingerman ran away from the train. The crash occurred within about five seconds. "Thank God for him telling us to get off," Clingerman said.
Mickey O'Connor, a 36-year-old visitor from Boston, was coming down the escalator to the platform with his wife and brother when he saw the crash. "It wasn't going super, super fast, but you just knew it was going fast," O'Connor said of the runaway train. "And then the train exploded up onto that front car of that train."
Philip Whims, 18, a student at the University of Maryland at College Park, was dozing on Train 105 and was jolted awake by the crash. "I saw people running out of the cars," he said, adding that two dozen high school students in his car were ushered out quickly by chaperones. Riders were screaming and crying, he said. "People were very panicky, to the point where I thought it was a terrorist attack."
The disruptions on the Red Line caused headaches for commuters and added to a growing dissatisfaction with Metro service. Jeff Cohen, 37, stood in a long line outside the Dupont Circle Metro station shortly before 4 p.m. He was among about 100 riders in an ever-growing line to board 65 buses to go to the Van Ness-UDC Station, where the Red Line was operating. Metro had not yet started single-tracking trains on the route.
"I'm not terribly pleased," said Cohen, a daily rider and database administrator who was heading home to Gaithersburg and did not learn about the Red Line delays until he was boarding at Metro Center. "I wish they had told me before I had gotten on," Cohen said.
The scene outside Dupont Circle Station before 4 p.m. was a kind of ordered chaos. Passengers flowed off the escalators at 20th and Q streets NW. Buses idled at the corners, and riders asked Metro employees which they should board.
Metro worker Shawn Muhammad stood in the middle of it, part traffic officer and part answer man. Some passengers were civil, and some sighed and groaned when they saw how long the line was.
Some were hostile. "You guys are terrible," one frustrated rider in a suit and tie said as he stormed past Muhammad.
Muhammad tried his best, asking people in line if anyone spoke Spanish and could help a Spanish-speaking rider. He wrote out directions for a deaf woman who wanted help. He helped fold a mother's two-seat stroller to get it onto a bus. At that moment, he was one of the few public faces of Metro.
"They're patient," he said of the riders. "They understand these things happen."
Jay McCord of Springfield, a reproductive health administration assistant who works near the Van Ness-UDC Station, boarded a bus there at 4:50 p.m., heading to Dupont Circle. He usually takes the Red Line to Metro Center before transferring to the Blue Line to the Franconia-Springfield stop.
"I'm probably stuck in a delay or a closure twice a week," McCord said, adding that he has been late to work because of Metro delays four times in the past two weeks. "It's probably one of the nicest-looking systems I've ever been on but the least efficient one." It takes an hour and 20 minutes to get from work to home, but yesterday he expected a journey of 2 to 2 1/2 hours. "For 16 miles away, that's pretty bad," McCord said.
Staff writers Karlyn Barker, Michel duCille, Maureen Fan, Manny Fernandez, Nicole Fuller, Allan Lengel, Susan Levine, Del Quentin Wilber and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.