WASHINGTON – One Metro transit train smashed into the rear of another at the height of the capital city’s Monday evening rush hour, killing at least six people and injuring scores of others as the front end of the trailing train jackknifed violently into the air and fell atop the first.
Cars of both trains were ripped open and smashed together in the worst accident in the Metrorail system’s 33-year history. District of Columbia fire spokesman Alan Etter said crews had to cut some people out of what he described as a “mass casualty event.” Rescue workers propped steel ladders up to the upper train cars to help survivors scramble to safety. Seats from the smashed cars spilled out onto the track.
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said six were confirmed dead. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin said rescue workers treated 76 people at the scene and sent some of them to local hospitals, six with critical injuries. A search for further victims continued into the night.
A Metro official said the dead included the operator of the trailing train. Her name was not immediately released.
The crash around 5 p.m. EDT took place on the system’s Red Line, Metro’s busiest, which runs below ground for much of its length but is at ground level at the accident site near the Maryland border in northeast Washington.
Metro chief John Catoe said the first train was stopped on the tracks, waiting for another to clear the station ahead, when the trailing train, one of the oldest in the Metro fleet, plowed into it from behind.
Officials had no explanation for the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board took charge of the investigation and sent a team to the site. D.C. police and the FBI also had investigators at the scene to help search the wreckage.
Officials would not say how fast the train was traveling at the time of the accident. The crash occurred in an area with a sizable distance between rail stations in which trains are allowed to travel at higher speeds, Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said.
The trains’ devices that record operating speeds and commands are being turned over to the NTSB, Smith said.
Each train had six cars and was capable of holding as many as 1,200 people. Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said the trains were bound for downtown. That would mean they were less likely to be filled during the afternoon rush hour.
The trains had pulled out of the Takoma Park station and were headed in the direction of the Fort Totten station.