Observing five years since fatal Metrorail crash

WASHINGTON– Five years ago today, disaster struck the Metrorail.

A Red Line Metro train hurtled into the back of another that had been stopped and waiting to enter the Fort Totten station. Making matters worse, the six-car train that struck the other was composed of the 1000-series cars — the oldest in Metro’s fleet. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would later acknowledge that these older cars were vulnerable to catastrophic damage in the event of a crash.

Nine people were killed, including eight passengers and the operator of the striking train. About 80 people were injured; some were trapped for hours. It was the worst crash in Metro history.

“It was terror, I was standing up because I was waiting to get off and it threw me. I lost my glasses,” said Tom Baker shortly after he emerged from the wreckage.

“I saw the entire car basically crumbling up on top of the first train, ” he said. The crash happened around 5 p.m., at the height of the afternoon rush hour, between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations.

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Killed in the crash were: train operator Jeanice McMillan, 42, and passengers Veronica DuBose, 29, Ana Fernandez, 30, LaVonda “Nikki” King, 23, Ret. Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr., 62, Ann Wherley, 62, Dennis Hawkins, 64, Mary Doolittle, 59 and Cameron Williams, 37.

Three days after the crash, NTSB found a faulty circuit on the track near the wreck. Investigators say the circuit failed to detect the moving train. The NTSB also recommended that Metro replace its 1000-series cars, which are nearly 40 years old, dating back to when the system began operations.

Since the disaster, Metro has improved its computerized train detection system and is in the process of replacing the oldest cars in the fleet. Under current operations, 1000-series cars no longer lead or take up the rear of a train. Metro has also increased the number of individuals on its safety team.

A bronze plaque has been placed at the Fort Totten station, honoring the victims of the crash.

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