An electrical fire broke out on a disabled and empty Metro subway train in the Foggy Bottom station yesterday and forced delays and disruption upon hundreds of area residents during the evening rush hour.
For 10 of those minutes, third-rail power was removed from both tracks and an undetermined number of passengers were stuck in the tunnel on a Washington-bound train just short of the Foggy Bottom station at 23rd and I streets NW.
While firefighters battled the smoke and flames, Metro stopped its Washington-bound trains at Rosslyn in Virginia and its Virginia-bound trains at Farragut West underneath I Street NW between 17th and 18th streets. Metro ran 12 packed shuttle buses between Rosslyn and Farragut West before full rail service was restored at 4:45 p.m.
The damage to smooth operations had been done, however. Hundreds of people who had been told to leave the subway at Farragut West began pouring back into that station as the word passed that the trains were running again. They joined the hundreds more from the dense Connecticut Avenue and K Street employment corridors who normally use the station at that time.
The result was chaos. Farecard, Metro's automatic fare-collecting equipment, performed as it frequently does under stress: it broke down. Gates jammed and station attendants finally gave up and just let people in.
The two station attendants were swamped. One woman in a wheelchair was trying to leave the station could not get anyone's attention. Her Farecard had to be run through an exit gate while she wheeled through another bypass area. A passerby helped.
Station attendant Samuel Nelson was forced to repair one Farecard entrance gate six times in three minutes because it continued to jam. Despite the confusion, Nelson remained pleasant and effective, soothing the nerves of the people crowded behind the gate.
Farther back on the mezzanine, six of the eight Farecard vending machines broke down. The line at the two operating machines was 20 people long.
Because of the crush, the trains were simply not coming fast enough to clear the station, although they were running close to their scheduled six-minute intervals. Metro Transit Police Sgt. Barry McDevitt directed his troops to hold people at the top of the escalators once the platforms beside the track were filled. "We don't want anybody to get pushed off," he explained.
By 5:30 p.m. Farragut West was beginning to return to normal. Huge exhaust fans were pulling the last of the blue smoke from the fire out of the tunnels.
The fire-damaged train was pushed out of the Foggy Bottom station to National Airport for the duration of the rush hour. Metro officials planned to take it to the Brentwood Yard for examination last night. The cause of the fire was unknown.