Incidents on the Washington Metro
Numerous incidents have occurred in the history of the Washington Metro, including several collisions causing injuries and fatalities, and numerous derailments. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has been criticized for disregarding safety warnings and advice from experts.
January 6, 1996
On January 6, 1996, during the Blizzard of 1996, a Metro operator was killed when a train failed to come to a stop at Shady Grove station. The four-car train overran the station platform and struck an unoccupied train that was awaiting assignment. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation found that the crash was a result of a failure in the train's computer-controlled braking system. The NTSB recommended that Metro grant train operators the ability to manually control the braking system, even in inclement weather. Additionally, investigators recommended that Metro prohibit parked rail cars on tracks used by inbound trains. The NTSB also recommended that Metro reinforce the 1000-series cars to help protect them against telescoping in a crash. Metro rejected this recommendation in 2002, saying the modification was impractical and might lead to "higher longitudinal accelerations" and thus greater injuries. The NTSB also advised metro to install event recorders, similar to airplane black boxes, on all 1000-series cars. This recommendation echoed one made following Metrorail's first fatal accident in 1982, when the NTSB recommended the installation of event recorders in trains, but despite some discussion by WMATA managers, no recorders had been installed by January 1996.
November 3, 2004
On November 3, 2004, an out-of-service Red Line train rolled backwards into the Woodley Park station and hit an in-service train that was at the platform servicing the station. No one was killed, but 20 people were injured. A 14-month investigation concluded that the train operator was most likely not alert as the train rolled backwards into the station. Safety officials estimated that had the train been full, at least 79 would have died. The train operator was dismissed and Metro officials agreed to add rollback protection to more than 300 rail cars.
June 22, 2009
On June 22, 2009, at 5:02 pm EDT, two trains on the Red Line collided. A southbound train bound for Shady Grove stopped on the track short of the Fort Totten station, and another southbound train collided with the rear of the first train. The lead car of the moving train telescoped into the rear car of the stationary one. Several surviving and deceased passengers were trapped for hours during the rescue operation. Nine people died and more than 70 were injured, dozens of which were described as "walking wounded". The moving train's operator was killed. According to WMATA, trains were not single-tracking in the area when the crash occurred, but the trains were on the same track. Red Line service was suspended between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations, and New Hampshire Avenue was closed.
November 29, 2009
At 4:27 am on November 29, 2009, a collision occurred between two out-of-service trains at the Falls Church rail yard in Fairfax County, Virginia. According to Metro, three rail cars were believed to be damaged beyond repair. Three Metro employees with minor injuries were taken to a local hospital. The NTSB planned to launch an investigation of the incident.
The train operator, whose name was not released, was fired for "failure to follow standard operating procedures." He had been a WMATA employee since 2007. His train was moving at 18 mph; the speed limit for train yards is 15 mph, and operators are supposed to reduce their speed even further when approaching parked trains.
All twelve rail cars on the trains were damaged in the crash, and two were derailed, causing at least $9 million in damages. Train 902 (the moving train) was made up of cars 5056, 5057, 1171, 1170, 3223 and 3222. The stationary train was made up of cars 5138, 5139, 1107, 1106, 3216 and 3217.
Track worker accidents
Metro had a string of three fatal accidents involving track workers in a little over a year. In October 2005, a Metro employee was struck and killed at Braddock Road station on the Blue and Yellow Lines. In May 2006, another Metro employee died after being hit by a Red Line train at Dupont Circle station. On November 30, 2006, two Metro employees were struck and killed by a Metrorail train while performing routine track maintenance on the Yellow Line near Eisenhower Avenue station. The operator of the train was found to be at fault for not following appropriate emergency braking procedures, and was permanently barred from operating Metro trains or buses. WMATA subsequently limited when track inspections can take place and lowered train speeds to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) when within 600 feet (180 m) of inspectors.
On August 9, 2009, a Metro employee was struck and killed by a ballast regulator, a track unit that deposits and spreads track ballast onto the track bed. The incident occurred halfway between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield and Vienna/Fairfax–GMU stations on the western end of the Orange Line in Fairfax County.
On September 10, 2009, Metro employee John Moore was struck between the Braddock Road and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stations. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died four days later from his injuries.
On January 26, 2010, at 1:45 am, Metro employees Jeff Garrard, 49 and Sung Oh, 68 were killed when they were hit by a piece of track equipment at the Rockville station. They were installing new train control equipment in the track bed on the outbound track of the Red Line, towards Shady Grove.
On Sunday, October 6, 2013, two WMATA employees were injured and a contractor was killed when they were struck by a 40-foot section of rail following a fire and loud noise approximately 70 to 80 feet from the injured workers. The incident occurred shortly after midnight in a work zone on the outbound (Glenmont direction) track approximately 400 feet from the Union Station platform towards Judiciary Square.
On January 13, 1982, a train derailed at a malfunctioning crossover switch south of the Federal Triangle station. In their attempt to restore the train to the rails, supervisors failed to notice that another car had also derailed. That car slid off the track and hit a tunnel support, killing three people and injuring 25. This accident occurred just thirty minutes after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 into the 14th Street Bridge. (See also 1982 Washington Metro train derailment.)
In January 2003, a Blue line train carrying 46 passengers derailed at the National Airport station. This incident was followed by a string of seven other derailments in the following 20 months, some which occurred in rail yards or yard lead track.
A 5000-series train derailed on August 19, 2004, just north of the Silver Spring station, on a section of pocket track, used for turning Red Line trains around when they terminate at the Silver Spring station.
On January 7, 2007, a Green Line train carrying approximately 120 people derailed near the Mount Vernon Square Station in downtown Washington. At the time, trains were single tracking, and the derailment of the train's fifth car occurred where the train was switching from the south to northbound track. The accident injured at least 18 people and prompted the rescue of 60 people from an underground tunnel. At least one person had a serious but non-life-threatening injury. The Mount Vernon Square accident was one of a series of five derailments involving Metrorail's 5000-Series cars, up to that point, with four of those occurring on side tracks and not involving passengers. On June 9, 2008, an Orange Line train (2000-series) derailed between the Rosslyn and Court House stations. Prior to this incident, the tracks were improperly inspected and problems with the tracks were not reported. On March 27, 2009, a Red Line train derailed near the Bethesda station, after it was experiencing mechanical difficulties and passengers had been offloaded. The first car of the second train, sent to recover the disabled train, also derailed.
A number of maintenance vehicles have also derailed. On February 19, 2009, a vacuum maintenance vehicle derailed on the K Route near the Court House station, and derailed again the same day when it was being taken to a rail yard. The same day, a Yellow Line train with 5000-Series cars derailed near Mount Vernon Square, but with no serious injuries, as the train had already offloaded passengers.
On February 12, 2010, a Red Line train derailed at 10:13 am as it left the Farragut North Station near downtown Washington. After leaving the station, the train entered a pocket track. As it continued, an automatic derailer at the end of the pocket track intentionally derailed the train as a safety measure. The front wheels of the first car in the six-car, White Flint-bound train were forced off the tracks, stopping the train. Almost all of the estimated 345 passengers were evacuated from the damaged train by 11:50 am The evacuation was completed by moving passengers into the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cars of the consist, decoupling the cars from the lead pair, and then running the remaining four cars back to Farragut North station. The lead pair was left in the tunnel. The train was apparently mis-routed into the pocket. Central Control attempted to align a route back onto the main line but could not clear the signal. The operator, who was newly returned to service from an extended leave, was told to run past the red signal. Neither she nor the supervisor who ordered her to move the train were aware there was a derailer present at that location, or that it had to be moved to allow the signal to clear. The NTSB arrived on the scene by 12:00 pm Two minor injuries were reported, and a third passenger was taken to George Washington University Hospital. The cause is under investigation.
On July 6, 2012, a southbound Green Line train derailed in a tunnel in Hyattsville, Maryland. Three cars derailed, but remained upright, and none of the 55 passengers were injured. Heat is thought to have played a factor in the derailment, causing a kink in the rail.
On August 30, 2013, just after midnight, a non-revenue Red Line train derailed while in transit between two rail yards. The incident occurred outbound on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations. There were no injuries. The incident caused a portion of the Red Line to be closed from Fort Totten station to NoMa station during the Friday pre-Labor Day morning rush hour. The derailment damaged several pieces of track equipment including the 3rd rail. It was reported that rail cars 1090 and 1091, which were damaged in a previous incident at Silver Spring, were part of the derailed consist.
In 1987, a CSX train derailed near the Takoma station, where the freight trains and Metro tracks run along the same corridor. The CSX train tore through a chain-link fence and onto the Metro tracks. One car penetrated the Metro power substation building adjacent to the tracks, causing significant damage. This accident led NTSB to recommend an intrusion detection warning system along this stretch of tracks.
In 1989, an Orange Line train hit a car that had fallen onto the tracks from an Interstate 66 overpass, though the train operator was able to apply the emergency brakes and slow the train to 5 mph at impact, resulting in no serious injuries for the 40 passengers.
Metro has also experienced a number of incidents in which trains narrowly missed colliding. On June 7, 2005, a train operator in the tunnel beneath the Potomac River, between the Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn stations, had a signal to proceed but noticed red lights ahead and engaged the emergency brakes. His train missed colliding with the one ahead of it by 35 feet, and the train behind his missed colliding by 20 feet. Another incident occurred in March 2009, near the Potomac Avenue station, when one train missed colliding with another by 500 feet after the Automatic Train Protection system failed.
On January 12, 2015, during early evening rush, a Yellow Line train departing L'Enfant Plaza for Pentagon began to fill with smoke. Everyone on board was evacuated; 84 people were taken to hospitals and one person died. The National Transportation Safety Board released a statement saying "an electrical arcing event" sparked the incident. According to an Associated Press story the next day, the last fatality on the metro system had been on June 22, 2009. The report went on to state that electricity had arced from the third rail to the track, and that the cause was still undetermined. One victim was known to be in critical condition. Questions were raised about the timeliness and adequacy of the emergency response by Metro and rescue personnel.
WMATA has no direct oversight from any local, state, or federal authorities. The Tri-State Oversight Committee oversees WMATA, but has no regulatory authority. Metro's safety department usually is in charge of investigating incidents, but cannot require other Metro agencies to implement its recommendations. The NTSB, which is charged with investigating every civil aviation accident and significant accidents in other modes of transportation, does not have the authority to set or enforce standards. This lack of authority has been scrutinized after NTSB recommended that WMATA take measures to increase crash worthiness of trains after collisions in 1996 and again in 2006. WMATA did not take action on these recommendations, citing tax advantage leases and an eventual replacement around 2014. NTSB, unable to compel action, classified the recommendation as, "Safety Recommendation R-06-2 Closed Unacceptable Action".
- Becker, Jo; Lyndsey Layton (June 6, 2005). "Safety Warnings Often Ignored at Metro". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 25, 2009.
- "Railroad Accident Report: Collision of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Train T-111 with Standing Train at Shady Grove Passenger Station, Gaithersburg, Maryland, January 6, 1996". National Transportation Safety Board. October 29, 1996. Retrieved January 27, 2009.
- Kiser, Uriah (June 23, 2009). "Original Metrorail cars have history of collapsing". News and Messenger. Retrieved October 29, 2009.
- NTSB Railroad Accident Report – 2004 Woodley Park accident
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- "Two Metro Workers Killed In Rockville" (Press release). wusa9.com. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- "Metro releases preliminary findings of investigation into overnight construction accident in Red Line work zone" (Press release). WMATA. October 6, 2013.
- Department of System Safety and Risk Protection Final Reports – Derailments, 2003–2004
- "Metro details final investigation report into the August 19th pocket track train derailment at the Silver Spring Metrorail station" (Press release). Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. October 28, 2004. Archived from the original on June 25, 2006. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
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- "Poor track conditions blamed for June derailment" (Press release). WMATA. October 16, 2008. Retrieved June 24, 2009.
- "Expect Delays: Metro Trains Derail at Bethesda Station". NBC Washington. March 27, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2009.
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- "D.C. Metro train derails at Farragut North". Washington Post. February 12, 2010. Retrieved February 13, 2010.
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- Henderson, Neil (August 29, 1991). "Washington Metrorail Contains Safeguards". The Washington Post. pp. A20.
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- Stephens, Joe; Lena H. Sun (August 9, 2009). "Metro Safety System Failed in Near Miss Before June Crash". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- Jaffe, Alexandra (January 13, 2015). "1 dead after smoke shuts down D.C. metro station". cnn.com. CNN. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
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- Washington Post, "‘Arcing’ likely cause of smoke in deadly Metro incident", 14 January 2014
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- NTSB recommendations (2004)