Early Morning Fire Disrupts Red Line Commute

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008; 9:59 AM

A fire under a train on Metro's Red Line early this morning shut down the Friendship Heights station for about 30 minutes and slowed service as trains in both directions shared a single track.

Metro officials said commuters should expect delays on the Red Line of up to 60 minutes in either direction for the rest of the morning commute. Service on other lines was operating normally.

Emergency vehicles that responded to the station were blocking a traffic lane on Wisconsin Avenue, at the intersection of Western Avenue, D.C. transportation officials said. A power outage about a mile south on Wisconsin Avenue put traffic signals at Tenleytown Circle out of service, officials said, further snarling traffic for motorists on that busy commuter route.

Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said the fire under an inbound, six-car train destined for Glenmont was reported shortly before 7 a.m., filling the tunnel with heavy smoke.

About 100 passengers were evacuated from the train without incident, D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said. But a train driver who suffers from asthma was having trouble breathing, and an ambulance was summoned to take her to the hospital. A passenger was also taken for treatment after reporting chest pains, Etter said.

Farbstein said the train involved in the fire remained in the track, forcing other trains in both directions to share a single track in order to detour around it.

The Friendship Heights Station, on the D.C.-Montgomery County border, was closed at about 7:20 a.m., meaning trains did not stop and passengers could not board or disembark. It reopened at 7:54.

Shuttle buses were deployed between the Tenleytown and Bethesda Metro stations to help customers get around the delays, officials said. They noted, however, that "a full train can carry 1,000 passengers and a full bus can carry only 50 passengers, so there are long lines for shuttle buses as well."

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Etter said. "Whatever it was, it eventually burned itself out," he said.

D.C. transportation officials said they were deploying portable stop signs and traffic officers to Tenleytown Circle, where traffic signals were out of service because of the power outage. Motorists were urged to use caution and seek alternate routes.

Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company