44 riders stranded for two hours on dark Orange Line train

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley,Metro

Forty-four riders on Metro's Orange Line were stranded for more than two hours when their train lost power outside of the Cheverly station late Sunday night.

The train went dark about 10:30 p.m., and it wasn't until 12:45 a.m. that a "rescue train" carried riders to the next station at Landover. While Metro crews worked to figure out what was wrong with the train, riders were moved from the dark rail cars to the front operator's car, which still had light and heat.

"This is a billion-dollar system. This is not acceptable -- at 28 degrees outside," rider Carla Dickerson told TV station WJLA, which first reported the delay.

After investigating what they first thought was a voltage problem, Metro officials discovered the train traveled over a dislocated third rail, which broke off the train's "collector shoes" that transfer power from the third rail to the car. The train couldn't collect enough power to make it to the next station, stopping about 500 yards outside the Cheverly station, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. The same third rail damaged two additional trains that were ahead of the disabled train, but they were able to make it to Landover before being taken out of service, Stessel said.

"It was an extremely long delay, north of two hours for passengers who were on that train," Stessel said. "The more important thing for us is that it was handled safely."

Stessel said Metro avoided evacuating passengers because walking on the track bed would have been hazardous and cold.

"The steps that were taken last night were in an abundance of caution and with the goal of accommodating these customers without having to take them off the train into the track bed," he said.

The downed train caused backups along the Orange Line, with Metro finally canceling train service and setting up shuttle buses from Stadium-Armory.

Rider Frank Princesa said it took him two hours to get from Metro Center to his car at New Carrollton.

"[The shuttle bus] was [at] full capacity with literally no space to move in [everyone was standing]," he wrote in an email.

Princesa said his shuttle later had problems leaving another Orange Line station because police cars were parked in its path, and his driver had to ask passengers for directions to the next station.

"I know technical problems happen, but everyone's incompetency during this entire ordeal is what made it bad in my opinion," Princesa said.

Stessel said it was "not surprising" that the shuttle driver had to ask directions, since emergency shuttles are staffed by drivers who can take extra shifts and who may be off their normal routes. He said the police cars were not Metro's.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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