Passengers Trapped in Van Dorn Street Metro Station

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Metro's Van Dorn Street station manager met the day's last scheduled Blue Line train at 12:32 a.m. Friday. He escorted the riders out of the station, then locked up and headed home. The only problem was that the last train for the night hadn't actually arrived yet.

So just after 1 a.m., about eight passengers found themselves trapped inside the station in Alexandria for 30 minutes as they waited for Metro Transit Police to unlock the exit, according to accounts from two of those stranded.

"It was a nightmare, really," said Tijan Ceesay, 46, of Alexandria. "I think I'll be scarred for a while. For me, I was held against my will."

Metro is conducting an investigation to determine why a train arrived after the last one scheduled, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. He said that the mix-up was "extremely rare" and that he couldn't remember another such instance.

Ceesay was on his way home to his wife and three daughters after a shift as a server at a restaurant near the Pentagon City Station.

When the group of passengers got off at Van Dorn, Ceesay said, they quickly realized that the gates were locked. Two or three of the people were small enough to squeeze through a 10-inch gap in the gate, but the others were too big or didn't want to risk getting stuck, the witnesses said.

Aaron Carson, 22, who lives in Alexandria and works in construction, was heading home after volunteering at an event for his church near the Dupont Circle Station. He boarded the Metro about 11:30 p.m. and didn't get home until 2 a.m.

Ceesay said he called police twice. An Alexandria police officer arrived not long after they called, but he didn't have keys to open the gates.

Records show that Metro Transit Police received a call at 1:16 a.m. and that units arrived at 1:30 a.m. Taubenkibel said there were four passengers at the station when police arrived.

The premature closure was yet another embarrassing incident for the beleaguered transit agency, which has struggled during the past few months with several serious accidents and managerial lapses.

Taubenkibel said that the station manager who closed early has been in that job for three years and that he has been with Metro since 1996. The spokesman said he did not know whether the station manager had been placed on paid administrative leave.

Ceesay said the "funniest part" of his ordeal was that he got a ride home in a squad car from the friendly Alexandria police officer.

Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company