Facing a smoky train fire at the new Forest Glen Metro station 20 stories underground and sealed off from the usual exit by a giant steel door, riders are expected to wait patiently for another train to carry them to safety instead of trying to flee the station.

Forest Glen's fire rescue plan has been criticized by some fire safety professionals -- including 10 experts contacted by The Washington Post -- because they believe parts of it may not work. The station opens Saturday.

"People go for the quickest way out, which is the way they came in," said Gordon M. Sachs, a fire safety specialist with the U.S. Fire Administration. "People won't wait for a train . . . because they'll feel, 'Hey, we just got off one train with a problem. How do we know this won't have one too?' "

Experts also questioned Metro's use of a rolling steel door that will close the station's main exit in case of a fire. "When that door comes down, that will increase the panic," said Michael J. Schulz, a board member of the National Association of Fire Investigators in Chicago. "People will think they are trapped in the fire."

Passengers who balk at being rescued by train can take the station's elevators to the surface, which Sachs warned is "breaking a traditional rule we've tried to impart on people for years and years: Don't use an elevator in a fire."

Other problems turned up Friday night in a drill that was supposed to highlight the rescue plan, one of the most unusual for a transit station anywhere. Fake smoke was not cleared quickly by fans, evacuation instructions given over the public address system were hard to hear and signs did not make it obvious where passengers were supposed to go in an emergency. The main fire escape door bore a single, unexplained marking: "C-626."

Montgomery County fire officials, who worked with Metro on the rescue plan for eight years after warning that the initial Forest Glen design created a firetrap, maintain that the station is safe. Metro officials said most of those problems pointed out by Friday's drill would be fixed before the station opens.

"I don't want anyone to think, 'Oh, my God, this is a terrible, life-threatening situation,' " said John M. Best, Montgomery County's fire marshal. The plan "is unique in terms of human nature, but we have a high comfort level with it," he said.

The station is at Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road, just north of the Capital Beltway in Silver Spring and about a mile south of the new Wheaton station, both on the Red Line.

Forest Glen is the deepest station in Metro's planned 103-mile system. The depth forced Metro to put in high-speed elevators instead of escalators and come up with a special evacuation plan.

A serious fire, while not impossible, is unlikely in the Metrorail system, which has had no major fires in its 14-year history. The stations and trains are relatively fireproof, and any fire that does start usually can be put out quickly.

What worries officials most is the possibility of a smoky fire underneath train cars involving devices that dissipate heat generated when the cars brake. Such fires occurred frequently before Metro modified the cars.

Unlike Metro's other stations, Forest Glen was built with two separate train rooms, one containing the inbound track and the other the outbound track. The rooms are connected by a central passage, where six elevators are located.

If a smoking train enters a station, passengers will be directed by signs and station attendants to the central passage and connecting halls at the north and south ends of the platform.

The passages are pressurized so that air blows out of them instead of letting smoke in, and a steel door will come down over the 18-foot-wide central passage to block smoke. A sign on the steel door directs people to the fire escape door, immediately adjacent.

The idea is to get everyone to remain in the station and cross to the other platform so a train can whisk them away. But if frightened passengers reject that plan, they still could reach the surface by elevator -- which goes against the conventional wisdom.

As a last resort, passengers also could walk up 20 stories of stairs. Those are pressurized too.

Saving subway passengers by sending a "rescue train" is a method used in other transit systems, and some experts believe it will work at Forest Glen.

"Most people, given a choice between walking or using the elevator, will use the train," said John L. Bryan, chairman of the University of Maryland's fire protection engineering department.

Other safety experts said the success of the evacuation plan depends on people knowing about the plan before the emergency and overcoming their instinct to bolt out of the station.

"To me, the train should be the last option for evacuation," Schulz said. "The instinct will be to get out by going up."

William Kramer, a University of Cincinnati fire science instructor, said, "Most people take their normal exit out of a fire rather than want to do something different."

If people opt for using elevators, some experts said, many may be confused, since they have been taught to stay away from elevators in a fire.

"I'd be afraid of the elevator," said Edward L. Jones, who was the Oakland fire department's liaison to the Bay Area Rapid Transit System before he retired.

John C. Speakman, who succeeded Jones, said, "People go with what's instinctive. They try to exit their normal means of egress {the elevators}. They don't pre-plan their method of egress."

Other fire officials said that advances in elevator technology allow their use in emergencies. The Forest Glen elevators have three power supplies and bear green signs that say, "Use these elevators in case of fire or emergency."

Almost everyone interviewed, including Metro officials, expressed some concern about the steel door that comes down over the central passage during a fire. People may think their escape is being closed off, which could heighten their anxiety of feeling trapped.

"You're not going to be happy seeing that door come down in your face," said Robert S. Carpenter, Metro's fire safety director.

Bryan, the University of Maryland professor, suggested officials consider using a less ominous method, such as a heavy curtain, to keep out smoke.

"A steel door creates the perception of confinement, a dungeon-like atmosphere which might have unpleasant psychological effects on a person," Bryan said.

Experts generally are divided on whether people would panic in a subway fire at Forest Glen. Some believe people would act rationally if they are given understandable information; others said people could panic because they won't know or remember all of the unusual aspects of the Forest Glen station.

"I don't see panic being a big problem," Carpenter said. "If you have someone speaking authoritatively saying, 'Go over there,' they'll move."

The station attendants' role is critical at Forest Glen because they will have to evacuate the station before firefighters arrive. The Forest Glen attendants -- one in a kiosk above and another below -- are being given special training and will be paid more than attendants at other stations.

Some experts question whether anxious riders will heed the attendants' directions.

"The human instinct will be, 'Every man for himself,' " consultant Schulz said. "They'll say, 'I'm not relying on an employee of the subway system.' "