20 Hurt After D.C. Subway Train Derails

The Associated Press
Monday, January 8, 2007; 12:15 AM

WASHINGTON -- A subway train derailed Sunday near downtown Washington, sending 20 people to the hospital and prompting the rescue of 60 people from a tunnel, officials said.

The accident happened at about 3:45 p.m. near the underground Mount Vernon Square station, which serves two lines beneath the Washington Convention Center, Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said. There were about 150 people on the train.

One person had a serious but not life-threatening injury, Asato said. The other injuries were mostly "bumps and bruises," and one of those with minor injuries was pregnant.

Part of the six-car train had pulled into the station when the fifth car left the track and hit the tunnel wall, Asato said. All the cars remained upright.

Glass and metal were strewn through the tunnel, and the fifth car had significant damage, said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. The concrete tunnel wall also appeared to be damaged, but it was unclear how significant the wall damage was or whether the track was damaged.

About 60 people in the last two cars had to wait about 45 minutes for firefighters to reach them and escort them through the tunnel on a catwalk.

Passengers in the first four cars were able to exit on their own through the front two cars, which were already at the station platform, Asato said.

There was no fire, Asato said. An investigation was under way.

Witnesses said people started to panic when the six-car train began shaking, and some passengers began running to the back of the train.

"I was in a cab that actually shattered _ the front part of it _ those windows in between the two cars," said rider Lauren Sprigg.

Service on two lines was halted in both directions around the station, and Asato said a shuttle bus would take passengers around the accident scene.

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

In 2004, a train rolled backward and hit another, injuring 20 people.

The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the accident. Board members Kitty Higgins said the number of recent accidents was "cause for concern."

"This is an important system," Higgins said. "It's our nation's capital. We want to make sure it's as safe as possible."

Part of the car was ripped apart, Higgins said.

The train operator was undergoing routine drug and alcohol tests, Asato said. The woman had been operating Metro trains since 2000. NTSB investigators planned to interview her Monday, Higgins said.

Investigators are also planning to examine information from the train's data recorders to determine details such as how fast the train was going and when the brakes were applied.

After NTSB investigators examined the scene, Metro workers began removing the train, Higgins said. She said she didn't know how long it would take. Farbstein said it was unclear whether the station would be open in time for the morning rush hour.

© 2007 The Associated Press