Five Metro riders were injured on a L'Enfant Plaza escalator during Tuesday's morning rush when a large strip of metal came loose from the moving staircase.
None of the injuries was serious despite some blood, with three riders taken to local hospitals with "scrapes and cuts."
|Metro's escalator trouble|
|Metro averaged 11.4 injuries per month on its 588 escalators from January 2010 through June 2012, according to the transit agency.|
|But Tuesday's escalator incident is among Metro's largest in recent years, with the most riders injured since 2010 when a pileup occurred at a L'Enfant Plaza entrance escalator due to a brake problem, injuring 16 people.|
|Even so, some escalator accidents involving a single rider can cause the most serious injuries. On July 17, for example, a 14-year-old tourist's hand was mangled by a Smithsonian station escalator after he tried to free his flip-flop.|
|And at least four people have been killed on the escalators, including one man whose shirt and jacket became caught and strangled him, according to a 1997 City Paper story.|
|"Escalators are a very dangerous way to transport people," said James Benton, chairman of Metro's independent safety monitor.|
But many questions remain. Metro's safety officials had told an independent safety watchdog for more than eight hours that five commuters had been transported to hospitals, not three, until a reporter's repeated questions.
And exactly what happened -- and when -- to cause the equipment to fall apart remains disputed in the incident that occurred shortly before 8:30 a.m.
Metro said a witness told officials she saw a woman place a "mid to large size" bag on top of the metal side skirt as she rode down the escalator heading to the Orange and Blue line platform.
"The bag became caught in a seam between two panels of the skirt," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. "When the bag was dragged or pulled, the panel became dislodged, in turn creating an obstruction on the escalator."
Metro said that caused riders to immediately lose their balance and fall.
But a Metro rider who said she rode down shortly before the incident said the metal piece was already banging along the escalator's side as she went down.
"This siding did not get caught on someone's bag/clothing and ripped up," Rachel Frankel said. "It got caught against a woman's leg and tripped her."
Other riders also said on Twitter they had seen the metal loose that morning before the accident.
Metro said it is investigating. It declined to say when the last maintenance had been performed on the escalator or when it had last been inspected, saying such information would be part of its investigation.
The independent group overseeing Metro's safety also is reviewing it, said James Benton, chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee. While he said it is too early to know what caused the metal to fall off, due to the conflicting reports, he noted there may be a way to design the equipment so it would not pull off even if a bag were on top of it.
Metro's escalators have been plagued with problems that have left riders hiking up the stalled stairs. A 2010 consultant study faulted Metro for its poor maintenance practices on escalators, saying years of neglect led them to break down, prompting a major reorganization of the department.