Metro admits communication failure in Green Line chaos

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley,Metro

Metro officials admitted Thursday that their employees failed to communicate with each other and with riders during the Green Line meltdown that trapped thousands in a tunnel below the Anacostia River, though it said it acted safely.

An internal investigation into the Jan. 30 Green Line incident found that a common mechanical problem escalated into chaos after Metro police did not follow procedures and failed to call Metro's main command center when they shut down power to the section of track with two trains carrying thousands of riders.

The police, who were not told the trains were single-tracking, thought that the trains would run over emergency repairmen further down the track, and pushed an emergency power cut-off button.

But the command center couldn't restore the power until it knew why it had been cut off.

Meanwhile, passengers sat in dark, sweltering rail cars. One person had a seizure, Metro said.

Metro OKs Greenbelt help in FBI bid
Metro's board agreed to give Greenbelt a better shot at luring the FBI headquarters.
The FBI wants to ditch the J. Edgar Hoover building, and jurisdictions are lining up to court the federal agency to move inside their borders.
Metro agreed a decade ago to let a private developer build on land surrounding the Greenbelt station, and that developer is seeking out the FBI. But since the FBI has not said whether it wants to work with a public or private entity, the developer needed more flexibility from Metro, and asked it to let Prince George's County take the lead on the project if necessary.
But the deal is angering leaders from other areas competing for the FBI site.
"Taxpayers ... would be better served if [Metro] functioned as an honest broker rather than a cheerleader for a single jurisdiction's economic development goals," Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay said.
Metro said it will work with any jurisdiction that wants the FBI, but said it owns no other land in the running for the headquarters.
Tunnel, escalator coming to Medical Center
Metro approved an agreement for a new pedestrian tunnel under Rockville Pike at the Medical Center station, designed to accommodate the thousands of new military workers across the street at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Montgomery County will build, own and operate the pedestrian tunnel, while Metro maintains the entrance and elevators. Construction is set to begin this spring.

Metro's report said that about one minute before the command center was to restore power and move the trains, it got word that passengers were on the tracks and had to keep the power off, so as not to endanger riders' lives with the electric third rail.

"The thing that magnified it the most was the self-evacuation ... If people can stay on the train then we'll get them out much faster," General Manager Richard Sarles said. "When you go out on those tracks, you don't know if you're going to hit a live third rail."

Some riders evacuated through an emergency shaft that led to a field in Anacostia. Some of those riders got a ride home with transit police, while a U.S. Park Police helicopter watched over the field, "ensuring no Metro customers were left behind," the report on the investigation said.

Riders heaped praise on one of the train conductors, who reassured passengers with frequent updates, stories of his grandchildren and advice on how to handle the heat. But the other train conductor gave almost no announcements, Metro said, adding that the person had been on the job for seven months and was inexperienced.

Metro also said it did not have enough buses to shuttle the rush-hour customers, and that buses had trouble getting through to stations because emergency vehicles were parked in their paths.

Sarles in an unusual move apologized for the chaos shortly after it happened and met with riders the next day to hear their concerns.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner