The collapse of Metro subway service during the weekend blizzard is understandable, even if not excusable. But reports of the transit authority's abominable communication or, more accurately, lack of communication with its riders are close to scandalous.

Washington hotelier Philip Wagner, a resident of Lanham, the bearer of the most vivid report to reach MetroScene, related the following sequence of events on Sunday morning. The events occurred, he said, after it had been announced on the radio that all subway service except on the Silver Spring Line would begin at 10 a.m.

Wagner, hoping to catch an Orange Line train for New Carrollton (where his car was parked), arrived at the 17th Street entrance to the Farragut West subway station, where about 100 would-be riders had gathered outside a locked mezzanine gate. Someone finally passed the word that the 17th Street entry to the station doesn't ever open on Sunday. (There was no sign that said so.)

Everybody trooped to the 18th Street station entrance, adding to another 100 waiting for its gates to open. The station attendant tried to open the padlocked gate from the inside, then announced that she had the wrong key--it wouldn't fit. "By that time, the crowd was starting to act like a lynch mob," Wagner said. (Besides, how did she get inside?)

A knot of British tourists, leaving the station in frustration, spotted the elevator from the sidewalk into the station and decided to try it. As it happened, it got them inside the locked station gate. Other passengers saw them and followed, and waited for the first train.

The first train arrived, already packed with passengers, all its destination signs inexplicably proclaiming: NO PASSENGERS. Everybody got aboard, asking whether it was a Blue Line or Orange Line train. Nobody knew. The operator didn't announce.

The train arrived at Eastern Market station on Capitol Hill. Then, and only then, said Wagner, did the operator announce that this was the end of the line. Everybody, including those bound for Addison Road and New Carrollton, got off, many waiting for the same train to return downtown.

Wagner hitchhiked to New York Avenue, then thumbed another ride home. "If they'd only told us, we'd have understood. But . . . , he concluded, "those [expletives deleted] told us nothing."