WASHINGTON – Riders at Metro Center were surprised to find a reportedly confused woman standing on the median between two tracks on Wednesday night, according to eyewitnesses.
The woman, dressed in black and carrying a red bag, appeared to try to cross over both sets of Red Line tracks between 9:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night before stopping on the center barrier. She appeared “lost, almost confused,” says Jen Voss, who tweeted a picture of the incident.
Metro reports the 37-year-old woman is French, does not speak English and was trying to cross from the Shady Grove side to the Glenmont side of the tracks.
“If you can believe it, it seemed like an honest mistake,” Voss tells WTOP in an email.
Others tried to help, but there wasn’t much they could do, says Voss. Fellow riders tried to lure her back to the platform, concerned about the threat of electrocution.
Metro staff stopped the trains and shut off the electricity, before Metro Transit Police officers removed her from the median.
“I don’t think she understood the risk she put herself in,” says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. “She clearly doesn’t understand how Metro operates.”
The woman was not injured and there are no reports she is mentally handicapped, Stessel says.
The third rail is located immediately against the light grate on which the woman was standing. It is constantly live with the 750 volts it feeds to trains, says Stessel. The Red Line is Metro’s busiest track.
“Needless to say, she is incredibly lucky,” he says.
Anyone who witnesses another rider on or near the tracks should first contact the station manager, who can cut off power and alert trains to stop, says Stessel.
Riders who drop something on the tracks should never climb down themselves, he says. Station managers have special equipment that can retrieve dropped objects.
There have been moments when riders “heroically” come to the aid of other passengers who fell on the tracks and were in mortal danger, he says. That last- ditch effort should only be employed if there is no other option.
Transit police interviewed the woman and released her. She is not facing any charges.
A video of the incident shows the crowd clapping after the woman is safely brought back to the platform.