Minor Injuries Reported After Metro Train Derails

One car leaves tracks

The beleaguered Metro system is dealing with another train derailment in the District, but this time only "very minor" injuries have been reported.

And this time, it appears the system's safety features did what they were supposed to do.

A six-car Red Line Metro train derailed Friday morning at the Farragut North station. Metro said the train was headed in the direction of Shady Grove with 345 people on board when the front wheels of the lead car came off the tracks at 10:13 a.m. 

Sources told NBC4 that the track system sensed a red light ahead, so it automatically derailed the train. The train was moving slowly at the time it derailed.

"The derailer system did what it was supposed to do, preventing an incident," one source said.

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the train was on a "pocket track," which is a side track that allows Metro to maneuver trains.

Sources still do not know why the train went into the pocket track. When the system opened in 1976, the Red Line only went from Farragut North to Rhode Island Avenue, and the trains would switch tracks in the pocket track area. Sources said other areas where Metro has pocket tracks include West Falls Church, National Airport and Silver Spring.

Passengers who were on the train said they didn't know it had derailed until an announcement was made.

"It didn't feel much like anything," said one passenger, who is 39 weeks pregnant. "It was an abrupt stop. We didn't know it derailed until they told us."

Passengers said they were held on the train for about 1.5 hours. One passenger said they left the the front of the train that derailed on the tracks, then backed another train up to the other end of the train and pulled it back to the station so passengers could get off.  The remaining two cars are expected to be removed after the rail system closes at midnight.

"It was just kind of a hard halt," one passenger said. "Uneventful overall."

"Initially they said we were going to be leaving the train," the passenger said, "but then they took the passengers off the first two cars, then coupled the train and took us back to the station."

Pat Butcher, 52, of Springdale, Md., said she was on her way to work for the first time this week after the back-to-back snowstorms when the train derailed in a tunnel. "There was a big jolt forward ... and it stopped."

Butcher, who was in the last car of the train, said passengers remained calm.

D.C. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin said the operator of the train that derailed said there were no injuries, but Rubin later said there were three "very minor" injuries -- bumps and bruises.

Rubin said several other trains that were on the tracks near there were moved to safety.

One Metro rider who said she was on the platform when the derailment happened said she could see that the wheels were off the tracks.

"It wasn't overturned; nothing as bad as it's been, but it came off the track -- underground," she said.

The Farragut North station reopened at about 12:15 p.m. but was single-tracking at the station. Trains were restricted to a speed of 25 mph between Dupont Circle and Farragut North while officials investigated. All streets in the area reopened by 1 p.m.

The derailment comes as Metro attempts to get its service back to normal after Wednesday's blizzard.  The transit agency had opened all Blue, Yellow and Green Line stations and had limited service on the Red and Orange Lines before the derailment. Six of Metro’s 86 stations remained closed Friday morning as work crews continued to dig out the tracks.

Friday's derailment also comes after a collision last summer killed nine people when one train slammed into another that was stopped on the tracks, as well as a series of accidents that have killed Metro workers, including one that killed two employees last month.

The National Transportation Safety Board has a three-day public hearing starting Feb. 23 on its investigation into the cause of the June crash. NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said the agency has begun an investigation into Friday's derailment. Metro also is investigating.

"We certainly have a safety problem," said Metro Board Chairman Peter Benjamin. "We have a a financial problem and we have a management problem."

However, Benjamin said the biggest problem with Metro is culture "that is not sufficiently focused on safety as a way to live and a way to operate." He said changing that culture will take time.

D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a statement that the derailment is the "latest indicator that years of delayed and insufficient maintenance and replacement of obsolete equipment are at the root" of Metro's accidents, delays and operational problems.

Norton said the system needs more money and she said she will ask the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold a hearing on Metro's "maintenance backlog."

All Metrorail stations are expected to open at their normal time Saturday -- 7 a.m. -- but close at midnight instead of 3 a.m. to allow more time for overnight snow and ice removal.

Stay with NBC4 and NBCWashington.com for more information.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us