A Metro train operator abandoned her train in a station during the evening rush hour Monday, hopping aboard a train going in the opposite direction and leaving behind hundreds of bewildered homebound commuters, according to passengers and transit officials.
The six-car Red Line train, headed for Shady Grove, pulled into the Van Ness-UDC Station at 7:16 p.m. and sat idling for 12 minutes with the door to the conductor's compartment yawning open, according to the accounts.
Although a substitute operator was found ultimately and the train sent on its way, the incident, which occurred on an evening of heightened security concerns, was something that "should never happen," a Metro spokeswoman said last night.
She said Metro "made a mistake" when the train operator was allowed to leave the train. Procedure does not permit operators to leave trains idling, and the matter is under investigation, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.
Farbstein declined to identify the operator or any of the other Metro employees involved. None has been suspended, she said.
The central train controllers gave permission for the operator of Train 107 to leave her train under the belief that another operator was in the cab, Farbstein said.
The operator left the train, crossed the platform and caught Train 202, which was headed in the opposite direction, to Glenmont, Farbstein said.
"The door to the conductor's compartment was wide open, and the conductor was nowhere to be seen," one passenger wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. "Minutes passed, and no one had any idea what was going on."
The passenger said the station manager was informed but offered no explanation.
Farbstein said station managers are not authorized to enter the cab or make announcements on the train's public address system.
The manager could not be reached last night.
Ray Feldmann, a Metro spokesman, said system officials wanted to talk with the manager before he could be made available for an interview.
But he said train controllers learned about the incident after being notified by the manager.
Feldmann said that someone at the operations control center should have noticed earlier that the train was not moving.
Metro eventually got the idling train on its way through a series of maneuvers that appeared to combine aspects of chess and vaudeville.
The former operator of the idled train was told to take control of the Glenmont-bound train she had just boarded -- Train 202. The regular operator of Train 202 was told to get off that train at the Woodley Park station, cross the platform and board a third train, 104, which was headed to Shady Grove.
Train 104 then was instructed to enter the Van Ness Station -- slowly -- and creep up close behind the idling Train 107.
Once Train 104 had nuzzled up to Train 107, the second operator on train 104 got off and ran to the cab of waiting Train 107 to take it on its way, Farbstein said.
Train 107 was back in service at 7:28 p.m., she said.
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.