I Survived the Metro Derailment

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The first hint of trouble was a screeching sound -- unusual even for a Metro train -- that caused even the most veteran and jaded passengers to glance up from their books, newspapers and BlackBerrys and the other forms of entertainment that enable us to pass our time underground without confronting the possibility of actually talking to each other.

Next there was an odor, though not necessarily anything much different than the occasional odd odor that wafts through the Metrorail system.

Then, rather routinely, the Orange Line train came to a halt at about 2:45 p.m. in a tunnel between the Rosslyn and Court House stations. A few minutes later -- right after the announcement informing us of the investigation of the possibility that we had derailed -- I realized that what was happening was beyond routine.

The investigation didn't take long; we indeed had derailed. Eventually, this would add almost two hours underground to a trip that should have taken about 10 minutes.

It was about then that I began ridiculing the jerk who was on that train only because intense BlackBerrying had made him miss the stop where he should have changed to the Red Line, forcing him to double-back and putting him on the ill-fated train. That would be me. I hate it when I do that.

Though technically correct, "derailed" has a far more dire sound than what we experienced. It felt like one of Metro's routine -- and generally unexplained -- unscheduled pauses in service.

About 20 minutes into what would be called stoppage time at a soccer match, the train powered down, leaving us under a scant few lights and without air conditioning on an August-in-June day.

Our first face-to-face contact with a Metro employee came when a nice man came through the door at the end of the car to check on us. "Everyone okay?" he asked sincerely. "Anyone blind, crippled or crazy?" I saw none of the first or second categories but had suspicions regarding the third, including the guy who BlackBerried his way onto this train.

Soon we were informed that a "rescue train" would come for us. It would be five minutes, we were told at 3:20 p.m. By that time, bizarre behavior had broken out in our car: People were talking to each other. I checked the sign in the car to make sure this was not on Metro's list of verbotens, like eating, drinking and smiling.

Our little train of independent people living independent lives became something of a temporary community. And the conversations were loud and clear with the air conditioning off. "They turned the power off, and we are all cooking in here," a woman told somebody on her cellphone, somebody who had apparently suggested she call The Post. "Anybody want to talk to The Washington Post?"

At 3:30, the power (and the AC) returned. Three minutes later came another assurance that the rescue train was on its way. I, wily Metro veteran, knew we had a good chance of seeing the Love Train, the Peace Train or Walter "Big Train" Johnson before we saw any rescue train. But the amiable conversations continued, including speculation about how the derailment story would be embellished.

At 3:37, we were told that the rescue train was approaching and that we would move through our train and into that train and then be on our way to the promised land of Vienna. Two minutes later, Arlington Fire Department personnel entered our car.

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