WASHINGTON – Red Line Metro trains were delayed Tuesday as much as an hour after a part fell off one car, creating smoke in the tunnel — another in a long line of woes for the beleaguered commuter subway system that’s got passengers troubled.
“Safety is a concern,” said Ellen Myerberg, a 66-year-old Bethesda resident whose trip Tuesday from Friendship Heights to Metro Center for her volunteer shift at a Smithsonian museum took 50 minutes instead of the usual 15.
Myerberg admitted that she’s “a little bit anxious” riding the Red Line these days.
At about 9 a.m. Tuesday, a six-car train headed to Shady Grove from the Gallery Place/Chinatown station lost one of its collector shoes, four of which connect each car to the third rail, and created smoke, according to a news release on Metro’s web site. That train’s passengers were unloaded at Metro Center.
Red Line trains operated on one track between Farragut North and Judiciary Square stations until 10:35 a.m., slowing service. No one was injured.
The incident was relatively minor compared to others this year, including the June 22 Red Line crash between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations, that killed 42-year-old train operator Jeanice McMillan and eight passengers. It was the first fatal crash for passengers on Metro since 1982, according to the transit system’s web site.
The National Transportation Safety Board has not determined the exact cause of the accident, although it has cited a problem with track circuit equipment failing to detect the stationary train.
Since then, there have been three suicides, two Metro workers killed and repeated delays for maintenance and other problems.
The NTSB is investigating the worker deaths: Michael Nash, a 63-year-old track repairman, who was fatally struck by a gravel spreading machine while working on the Orange Line Aug. 9; and John Moore, 44, who was killed by a train as he worked between Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Braddock Road stations on the Blue and Yellow Lines in Virginia.
On Tuesday, Cliff Merrell, 34, an associate at Arnold & Porter LLP in the district, took issue with the delay alert he received on his Blackberry device. His trip from Shady Grove to Metro Center, normally 40 minutes, took an extra 45 minutes.
“Metro never gives enough information,” he said. The system announced that the train would “be moving momentarily” when it actually took much longer, he said.
“Momentarily means one or two minutes,” Merrell said. “Don’t say that.”
Such problems have become so common recently that some riders just treat them as routine.
“I’ve kind of gotten used to it ever since the accident” in June, said Adam Rubinson, 44, a Deloitte consultant who experienced an hour-long delay from the Tenleytown station Tuesday.
“I don’t have a car, so I don’t have other options,” Rubinson added.
Recent problems with the 33-year-old Metro system — the nation’s second-largest transit system after New York — have highlighted the urgent need for repairs. On Sept. 10, a Metro committee outlined the need for $11 billion over the next 10 years, $7.6 billion of which would be allocated for “performance/safety projects.”
The Senate passed a transportation, housing, and urban development bill in September that included $150 million for Metro, but it cannot go to President Obama until the bill is reconciled with a House version.