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Deadly Metro Crash Kills Nine

Shantella Y. Sherman | 6/24/2009, 11:05 p.m.

Nearly 80 people injured

€It is a scene of real devastation.€

That is the way National Transportation Safety Board Member Debbie Hersman described the carnage following the deadliest train crash in the 33-year history of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority system (WMATA).

The collision, which occurred on a southbound Red Line track at the height of the evening rush-hour, on Mon., June 22, left nine dead and close to 80 injured.

In what District Fire and Emergency Services Chief Dennis Rubin called €human carnage to the highest degree,€ the impact of the collision caused the striking train to run atop the standing train. Passengers were thrown from their seats, some through the doors and windows of the trains.

Metro General Manager John Catoe confirmed that the incident occurred when a stopped train exiting the Takoma Park station in route to the Fort Totten station in Northeast was struck from behind by another train, despite integrated technology designed to avoid crashes.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager John Catoe addresses the press at the accident scene on Mon., June 22. Photo by Victor Holt
Both trains were operating at six-car capacity with the ability to transport as many as 1,200 people, although the total number of passengers at the time of the accident has not been confirmed.

Metro spokesman Steve Taubenkibel said that one of the fatalities was the driver of the striking train, Jeanice McMillan, 42, of Springfield, Va. McMillan had been a Metro employee since January 2007.

Seriously injured passengers were either flown or taken to local hospitals by ambulance, while those listed as €green,€ with non-life threatening injuries, were taken to medical facilities by waiting buses.

Metro officials and rescue workers at the scene believed that some people were still trapped in the survivable space in the first car of the striking train well into the following morning.

At 5:30 a.m. Tue., June 23, 12 hours after the accident, crane devices were brought onto the crash site.

€[The cranes] allowed the cars to be scaled down by taking the huge components of steel and metal apart to check all the areas where folks may be,€ Rubin said.

In addition, dogs trained to locate both survivors and those who were killed in the accident [known as live dogs and cadaver dogs] were onsite overnight, checking along the sides of the trains to ensure that passengers, who may have wandered off or been thrown clear of the train following the collision, could be located. The investigation yielded no additional passengers.

Passengers from the Metro trains are transferred to awaiting buses after a rush hour collision of two trains on the Red Line on Mon., June 22. Photo by Victor Holt
Hampering the investigation into the cause of the accident is the model series of the striking train €" a 1000 series, which contained no data recording equipment by NTSB, which recommended the series removals from service in 2004 due to, among other issues, deficits in crash-worthiness. The struck train contained updated 5000-series and 3000-series cars, from which NTSB has located nine data recorders in order to help determine the cause of the accident. It is not clear, however, if the series number directly attributed to the crash.

NTSB investigators working in Mechanical, Signaling, Operator, Track, and Survival Factors Teams are set to begin investigating speed and track deterioration, perform site distancing tests, and examine the possibility of operator error or mechanical failures that may have caused or led to the accident.

In the wake of the accident, Catoe said that all Metrorail trains will operate in manual mode, rather than automatic.

Tijuana Cox, 21 awaits medical attention after a train collision on Metro€s Red Line. The accident left at lest nine dead, including the operator of one train, and more than 100 people injured. It's the first fatal crash for the Metro train system since 1982. Photo by Victor Holt
€All trains are pulling up to the eight-car mark at the stations to detect any safety concerns or issues until we can determine the cause of this accident, and that we will do. We will find out what happened and commit whatever resources are necessary to ensure that it does not happen again,€ Catoe said.

In recent years, Metrorail has seen a number of similar, though less critical rail accidents. A Green Line train, with more than 100 people aboard, derailed near the Mount Vernon Square station on Jan. 7, 2007, injuring 16 people.

Similarly, on Nov. 3, 2004, an out-of-service Red Line train rolled backwards into the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station and hit an in-service train stopped at the platform. No one was killed, but 20 people were injured. The NTSB investigation concluded the operator as being the cause of the crash.