Green Line Metro Train Derails; at Least 18 Hurt

Paramedics start to transport a pregnant woman who began having contractions after the Metro derailment at the Mount Vernon Square Station.
Paramedics start to transport a pregnant woman who began having contractions after the Metro derailment at the Mount Vernon Square Station. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Allison Klein and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 8, 2007

At least 18 people were injured yesterday when a Metro train carrying more than 100 passengers jumped the tracks at the Mount Vernon Square Station in Northwest Washington, officials said. The injury total appeared to be one of the highest in 31 years of subway operation and raised new questions about the system's safety.

With little warning, the northbound Green Line train began to shake and bump as the wheels of one of its rear cars left the tracks about 3:45 p.m. Part of one car hit the wall of the tunnel. Shattered glass and other debris tumbled to a car floor. Lights went out and shouting passengers ran through darkened cars, according to witnesses.

"It was real scary because we thought something would happen to us," said Erica Paris, 16, who was not injured. "The lights turned off and people started looking at each other and screaming."

Almost all the injuries were described as minor. But one passenger suffered a head injury and a pregnant woman began to experience contractions, according to a D.C. fire department official. Washington Hospital Center said seven injured people were brought there. A spokeswoman said she expected five would be released last night. Others were treated elsewhere.

The derailment shut down the station, near the heart of downtown, and it was still not clear late last night whether trains could pass through when the subway opened at 5 this morning. The cause of the accident was not immediately known. Problems with the type of car involved have been linked to previous Metro derailments.

The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating, along with Metro. "We want to make the system as safe as possible," NTSB member Kitty Higgins said. Declining to speculate on a cause, she said, "We have some work to do."

Asked if the station would open this morning, Higgins replied: "I can't say that."

The train was to be taken to a Metro yard. Higgins said the preliminary investigation will focus on the train and the tracks.

The Mount Vernon Square station, at Seventh and M streets and near the new Washington Convention Center, serves the Yellow and Green lines. Metro officials set up a bus shuttle between the Gallery Place and Shaw stations, bypassing Mount Vernon Square. Several people complained of waiting in the rain for buses that were late. A shuttle could again be necessary today.

About 40,000 passengers board or leave Green Line trains each weekday in just four of the stations immediately north of Mount Vernon Square. The line has 21 stations.

Officials said the derailment occurred when the six-car train, with about 120 passengers, was approaching the station at a time when outbound and inbound trains were sharing a track. Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said installation of communications cables in the tunnel confined the trains to one track.

Such track-sharing forces trains to shift at points between inbound and outbound tracks, typically at slow speeds. Farbstein said the derailment occurred when the train was crossing from the southbound track to the northbound track, which it would normally have used.

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