Derailment of Two D.C. Trains Will Create Delays for Cherry Blossom Fest Opening

A frustrated commuter tries his thumb to get a ride after two Red Line trains derailed near the start of rush hour. Delays were the rule for many travelers.
A frustrated commuter tries his thumb to get a ride after two Red Line trains derailed near the start of rush hour. Delays were the rule for many travelers. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
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By Lena H. Sun and Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 28, 2009

Visitors and residents heading to the National Cherry Blossom Festival this weekend should expect delays on the Red Line after yesterday's derailment of two trains near the Bethesda Metro station, officials said.

No injuries were reported, but Metro officials said last night that repairs to damaged track would probably take until Monday morning.

Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said a preliminary investigation indicated that a broken piece of rail caused the derailment of both trains.

It was not immediately clear whether the derailments themselves caused additional track damage.

Smith said "dozens of feet" of rail were affected. Another Metro official said the third rail, from which trains get power, was also damaged.

Metro schedules ultrasonic testing for its 106 miles of track five times a year, but track walkers are assigned to check the rails daily.

It was not known if the rail defect could have been readily detected.

The incidents came during Metro's busiest season. The National Cherry Blossom Festival starts this weekend, and Metro has announced plans to operate additional eight-car trains weekdays and weekends on the Red, Orange and Green lines.

Rail personnel were planning to work through the night at the scene. Long delays extended along the line in both directions yesterday from late afternoon into evening. The derailments caused major traffic backups on Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues as commuters spilled out of stations to find other ways home.

The problems began at 4:24 p.m., when a six-car Red Line train carrying 84 passengers toward Glenmont experienced brake problems between the Bethesda and Friendship Heights stations, according to Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. "The train could not move," he said.

Metro officials decided to use a train that was behind it to couple to the disabled one and push it out of the way. The second train unloaded at Medical Center, one stop north, and went toward the disabled train.

But before it got there, the lead wheels on the front car of the second train left the tracks, Taubenkibel said. In addition, the passenger train's rear wheels on its last car had popped off the tracks.

The two trains were about 300 to 400 feet apart in the tunnel between Bethesda and Friendship Heights.

A third train that had been nearby was used to unload the disabled train from the front. Trains used one track between Friendship Heights and Medical Center last night.

Neither derailed train involved the 5000 Series rail car that has been involved in many derailments. Both trains were made up of 2000 Series and 3000 Series cars, which make up about a third of Metro's fleet.

A train that derailed in June between the Rosslyn and Court House stations used those cars. Metro determined that the cause was track conditions not spotted or reported in an inspection that day.

Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.

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