Thinking back on the Red Line crash, Calvert Sawyers dwelled on what would have happened if he hadn't looked up.

"I got up to go close the doors and I looked up and saw the lights," said the Metro operator, recalling the moment when he realized the runaway train was coming right at him. "Thankfully, I hadn't gotten over there. If I had, I wouldn't have seen the train."

Had he not seen it, Sawyers said yesterday in a telephone interview, he thinks he'd be dead.

Once he saw the train bearing down a steep incline at 30 mph, Sawyers said, his sole thought was: "I need to get out of this cab before I get killed."

As he raced out of the cab, he yelled at the 35 or so passengers in the front car to get off the train and onto the platform at the Woodley Park Station.

"I stopped at the door and just screamed out at everybody: 'Get off the train right now! Get off the train right now!' "

Sawyers said his warnings provoked screams from the passengers in the first car, but he said all of them were able to get off before the runaway struck. "I came out with some of the people," he said, adding that they had "just a matter of seconds" before the crash. Sawyers said he was able to run 15 to 20 feet from the car before it was hit.

The empty train rolled down an incline with such force that it climbed on top of the car where Sawyers had been working, shearing off the sides and causing 20 minor injuries. Sawyers was taken to a hospital because he was dizzy, lightheaded and short of breath.

Metro officials credited his quick actions with preventing more severe injuries, including his own. They said yesterday they weren't able to comment further because of the investigation into the crash and said Sawyers will be on leave at least until the results of standard drug and alcohol tests come back next week.

Sawyers expressed regret that he wasn't able to alert the entire train over the public address system before the crash.

"I saw it coming and just didn't have [any] reaction time," said Sawyers, 58, who has worked at Metro for 26 years. "I just told everyone to get off the train, and I got off the train myself. There was no reaction time. When it's right there, at the spur of the moment, you just don't know what's going on. You just get yourself together and get out of there."

After the crash, Sawyers said, he immediately called the operations control center to report what had happened, and then he said he went back to check on his train and apply the hand brakes.

He said the train doors were open before the crash, but the impact shut them. One passenger said his exit was delayed about 30 seconds because the doors were closed, while another said the doors on her car were open.

Rescue workers lift Calvert Sawyers onto a stretcher after Wednesday's crash at Woodley Park. He was checked at a hospital after complaining of dizziness and shortness of breath.