Both trains were on the eastbound track and had received stop orders due to a train ahead on the platform at Metro Center. Metro is investigating what caused Train 700 to start down the track again, striking Train 755, which was stopped outside Farragut West.
Both were six-car, 3000-series trains, which are among the system’s oldest.
The root cause of the crash has not been determined, but Metro said data recorders and control center logs have ruled out signal system failures and the possibility that a track circuit might have lost contact with the train, taking it offline. The transit agency said its signal system knew where all nearby trains were and that “appropriate speed commands” were sent to the trains to maintain safe spacing between them.
“There are multiple people and trains involved, so that means a lot of data to download, correlate and understand what’s there,” said David Mayer, chief executive of the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, the independent regional body with safety oversight of the system.
The two train operators suffered minor injuries and were treated and released Monday. Both were interviewed separately by Metro and Metrorail Safety Commission investigators and underwent routine post-incident drug and alcohol testing, Metro said. Both will remain sidelined from operating trains until the investigation concludes.
It’s unclear whether service on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines will resume as normal for the Tuesday morning commute. Service on the three lines was impacted because both trains were left on the tracks for the day to preserve evidence and because Metro did not want to further disrupt service by moving them while trains were running. Moving the 12 cars off the track requires utility vehicle prime movers, similar to a tow truck or tug boat, which could take several hours because of their slow speeds, the agency said. The 3000-series cars come “coupled” and must be moved two at a time.
The disabled trains created a nightmare for thousands of commuters Monday. Trains serving the three lines were forced to share a track, causing delays. Riders reported packed trains and crowded platforms. In some cases, crowding was so severe that Metro Transit Police didn’t allow commuters onto escalators to the platforms.
Trains shared a track between Farragut West and McPherson Square all day, while Silver Line service was limited to between Ballston and Wiehle-Reston East stations. Though Metro said trains on the three lines operated every 15 minutes, riders reported lengthy delays and rows that were five people deep to board at some stations.
Allyson Versprille, who lives in Ballston and normally has a roughly 30-minute commute on Metro to her office in Crystal City, said she finally gave up trying to get to work and went back home.
She said her fiance told her of the delays before she left home, so she planned to use Uber or Lyft. But prices were $30 to $40 for a shared ride, Versprille said.
She said she decided to “brave Metro, thinking, ‘How bad could it be?’ Turns out, pretty bad.”
Versprille said officials at Ballston weren’t letting riders onto the main platform because it was too packed. When a train arrived, it was too crowded to board. Another train came through, but it wasn’t taking passengers and the next train wasn’t expected to arrive for 15 minutes.
At that point, she emailed her boss to ask to work from home.
“Now I’m stranded in my apartment, working from home, because I don’t have a timely or cost-efficient way to get to the office,” Versprille said around 10 a.m. Eventually, she was able to get a Lyft when prices dropped. She said she was “resigned” to unexpected delays on Metro.
“I’ve come to expect this kind of service,” she said.
The trains involved in the crash were both headed back to their home rail yards in preparation for Monday morning service, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. One was on its way to the New Carrollton rail yard, while the other was headed to storage tracks tucked behind Largo Town Center.
Both trains were on the same eastbound track when they received a “zero speed” or stop command from the Metro signal system because of a train ahead. Metro said event recorders show both trains complied with the commands.
Moments after the crash, which occurred at 12:54 a.m., the operator of Train 755 reported it, saying something “ran into the back of me,” according to dispatch recordings The Washington Post listened to, but which Metro did not verify. The driver was told to “secure your train.” The operator of Train 700 also reported that he had been in a “collision with the train ahead of me,” according to dispatch recordings. When asked if there was contact, the operator said “affirmative.”
Metro alerted the Metrorail Safety Commission and the National Transportation Safety Board about 1 a.m. The NTSB planned to review all investigative reports, but a spokesman said the agency would not be sending investigators or collecting evidence related to the crash.
The investigation will be one of the first significant ones overseen by the safety commission, which was created in 2018 to oversee Metro, after the Federal Transit Administration took control of safety oversight. The unprecedented federal action followed the deadly 2015 L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident that resulted in the death of 61-year-old Carol Glover.
Commission chief Mayer said his inspectors have participated in or monitored the interviews of both train operators and have accompanied Metro investigators to the Greenbelt rail yard, where train data was being processed. Metro investigators have 60 days to file a report of their findings to the commission, but Mayer said extensions could be granted for complicated investigations. He said he expected Monday’s crash to be one of those cases because it involved multiple trains and operators.
D.C. Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), who also heads a council committee that oversees Metro, tweeted that he found the overnight crash “very concerning.”
White said he expects a “significant investigation to determine the cause and how this will impact operations.”
While Metro honored its “Rush Hour Promise” for the Monday morning commute, a policy that gives riders a credit if they experience delays of more than 10 minutes, it temporarily suspended the promise on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines Monday afternoon. Stessel said policy allows the transit agency to suspend its guarantee program as long as customers are notified in advance.