1982 Washington Metro train derailment

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Coordinates: 38°54′07″N 77°01′55″W / 38.902°N 77.032°W / 38.902; -77.032

1982 Washington Metro train derailment
1982 Metro derailment from NTSB report.JPG
The train being inspected after the derailment
DateJanuary 13, 1982
4:29 p.m. EST (21:29 UTC)
LocationBetween Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations, Washington, D.C.
CountryUnited States
LineOrange Line
OperatorWashington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
Incident typeTrain derailment
CauseOperator error
Trains1 (1 six-car train)

The 1982 Washington Metro train derailment was an incident involving a single Orange Line Washington Metro train during the afternoon rush hour of January 13, 1982, in Downtown Washington, D.C. in the United States. The train derailed as it was being backed up from an improperly closed rail switch between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations, and caused the deaths of three passengers.[1][2] Several survivors were trapped for hours, and 25 were injured.[2] The incident was the first resulting in a fatality involving the Metro system[2] and remained as the deadliest incident occurring in the system until the June 22, 2009 collision that resulted in nine fatalities.[3]

The incident occurred only 30 minutes after Air Florida Flight 90 crashed at the 14th Street bridge complex, a short distance to the south, taxing emergency responders and paralyzing transportation across the Washington metropolitan area.


At 4:29 p.m. EST (21:29 UTC) on Wednesday, January 13, 1982,[2] an eastbound train (Train 410) on the Orange Line derailed while backing up from an improperly closed rail switch called the Smithsonian Interlocking.[4] The derailment occurred after the front wheelset followed one track and the rear wheelset followed another, after the train entered a track normally used to switch trains between the parallel tracks.[4] The resulting derailment saw the train move in a diagonal fashion for 150 feet (46 m) before coming to a stop just east of the Federal Triangle station.[2][4] Due to its occurrence during the evening rush hour, 1,200 persons were reportedly aboard the train. The accident resulted in three fatalities and 25 injured.[2] Both Orange and Blue Line service was suspended between McPherson Square and the Federal Center SW stations.[2] The response to the incident was slowed due to emergency personnel already responding to the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 into the 14th Street Bridge thirty minutes earlier.[5] Full service along the Metro did not reopen until the evening of January 15 following the removal of the wreckage from the tunnel.[6]


Following the investigations during the months following the incident, the NTSB and WMATA officials attributed the accident to operator error.[4] The investigation revealed that a Metro supervisor committed 11 errors, including failing to properly monitor the malfunctioning switch responsible for the derailment itself, and the train operator failed protocol after passing through the switch.[4] Additional failures occurred at the Metro control center relating to the derailment as well.[4] Additionally, Metro evaluated reinforcing the train vehicles with additional steel in order to provide for greater protection from side impacts in the cars.[7]

Prior to the accident, Metro policy called for passengers to remain in the cars until rescue personnel arrived. This was based on concerns posed by the 750-volt third rail that powers the trains in addition to possible abuse by pranksters.[8] Following the incident, Metro reversed its policy and by 1985 began the installation of emergency handles to allow passengers to escape a car in the event of fire.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Molly Sinclair (March 12, 1982). "2 Suspended For Role in Metro Crash". The Washington Post.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Stephen J. Lynton (January 14, 1982). "Metro Train -Derails; 3 Die". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ "At Least 7 Killed in Deadliest Collision in D.C. Metro History". NBC Washington. June 22, 2009. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved 2009-06-25.
  4. ^ a b c d e f John Burgess; Kenneth Bredemeier (February 26, 1982). "Derailment Probe Finds Dangerous Errors by Metro Employes". The Washington Post.
  5. ^ Eric Pianin (January 17, 1982). "Metro to Pay New Heed to Safety Critics". The Washington Post.
  6. ^ Peter Perl; Ron Shaffer (January 15, 1982). "Transit Delays Continue For Already-Reeling City". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ John Burgess (April 23, 1982). "New Study Ordered of Metro Cars". The Washington Post.
  8. ^ a b Stephen J. Lynton (July 18, 1985). "Emergency Door Handles Installed in Metrorail Cars". The Washington Post.