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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Explosions Rock My Metro Train

Oct 6, 2009 Metro Center Station, DC

I waited on the Metro platform at Union Station as I have become accustomed to over my years of commuting into DC. I hadn't hurried for the train that was already in the station when I arrived. Soon the next train arrived and Robert, a man who is usually on the evening MARC train and part of our Car 5 Gang, arrived from the opposite end of the platform. We boarded behind the pushing crowd so as to be able to remain near the doors in my wheelchair and not get thrust further in by the later arrivals.

We held for an extra minute for the train ahead of us to clear the station at Judiciary Square, then we proceeded. At Gallery Place-Chinatown we were delayed by a sick passenger who needed to be assisted off the train. Robert, with his gallows humor, said they need to toss the passenger off the train so we could get going. In a sense that is what they did. A supervisor assisted the non-emergency exiting of the passenger and we began to move out of the station.

The train lurched forward and we joked that they were trying to knock us down. Apologies went all around for the people who had just bumped into someone else. While we sat there, the operator announced that we would be holding while they "try to figure out what THAT was." It was not your usual false start as when someone is leaning against the doors and the fault indicator stops the train. The operator announced that maintenance personnel were checking the length of the train to make sure nothing was under the train. Again, Robert suggested that it felt like we had run over someone.

The operator got the permission to proceed and we moved slowly forward into the tunnel. My third car location had barely entered the tunnel when the first explosion rocked the train. The shock wave pushed me forward a bit. The flash was clearly visible against the dark walls of the tunnel. A collective "OH," went up and the level of nervous chatted accelerated. Two more explosions shook the cars. The flashes and reverberations seemed closer. My thoughts were, "is this what a terrorist act is like?" The train was stopped in the tunnel – lights on – smoke beginning to filter in through the floor vents and door joints. Some yelled that "we have smoke coming in here." Robert called out for everyone to remain calm and shouting would do nothing to help.

Another explosion. The train operator announced that she was going to limp the train into Metro Center where it would be evacuated. We moved slowly forward with halting movements until the platform came into sight. The operator broadcast to the waiting passengers to move back from the train, this train was out of service. The doors opened and a hurried, albeit hasty evacuation was made. The smell of burning electrical insulation followed the train into the station. The passengers aboard the train all disbursed, already knowing that there was no proceeding on Metro this day. Passengers on the platform still waited to board our disabled train. I told people as I passed by them on my way out, "this train is definitely out of service. It is going nowhere soon."

Smoke rose up through the station at Metro Center smelling of electrical burning. There was not visible flames coming off the train at that point. I paused at the mezzanine to look back at the train that still sat at the platform and the crowds of commuters on both platforms who would be finding a different path to work this morning. Nothing seemed untoward and the whole scene quite benign. By the time I reached the street, fire engines were screaming their way to Metro Center and Gallery Place in response to the " Disruption at Metro Center in both directions. Trains sharing same track btwn Judiciary Sq. & Farragut N due to an earlier situation at Metro Center. Delays both directions." So this is what they mean when they say…

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