This morning, while attempting to address track problems, Metro suspended all Blue Line train service into DC. At Save the Blue Line, we’ve said repeatedly that 12-minute wait times for the Blue Line lead to overcrowding and dangerous situations on the platform. Suspending Blue Line service completely was even worse — hundreds of riders found themselves in a mob situation on the L’Enfant platform as they attempted to transfer. People were trampled as the L’Enfant escalator deposited them onto a packed platform with nowhere to move. I was one of those riders, and here’s my story:
I boarded my usual Blue Line train at King Street around 7:30. Two stops later at Reagan National Airport the train operator announced the train would be going out of service. On the platform, the train indicator board said a Blue Line train would be coming in a few minutes. On Twitter though, some commuters were reporting no Blue Line trains were going into DC at all.
A Yellow train arrived, and the operator announced that Blue Line riders should get on the train and transfer at L’Enfant. Several people on the platform asked the operator to clarify whether a Blue Line train was coming eventually, as the board indicated. Like others, I find transferring does not work well for my commute and prefer to wait for a Blue Line train if possible.
The metro operator made several new announcements clarifying that no Blue Line trains would be going into DC. Blue Line riders would have to take a Yellow train and transfer at L’Enfant, then backtrack through the city on another line to their destination.
We boarded the train, and the operator continued to make this announcement at the stops. Blue Line riders around me grumbled at this latest example of Blue Line riders getting less service than other lines while paying full prices.
At L’Enfant I exited the train to transfer to the Blue Line as instructed by the metro train operator. The L’Enfant station was crowded, particularly in the areas where riders were trying to move downstairs in order to transfer lines. Though it was crowded on the upstairs platform where I was, from my vantage point it was not possible to see the lower-level platform and I could not see a dangerous situation developing below.
In the past, I have seen Metro staff shut down the stairs and escalators if a platform is too crowded in order to give the platform time to clear out. This was not the case here. There was one working escalator doing down to the lower level platform, and no metro transit police or staff visible on the upper level near the escalator.
I boarded the escalator down to the platform, and in the final seconds before getting off the escalator I realized I was being deposited into a dangerous situation. There were too many people on the platform around the escalator and there was no space to move away once off the escalator. In the next few seconds, the packed escalator dumped riders off into a wall of people, slamming me into the people ahead of us that were on the platform unable to move forward. People on the escalator were unable to move backwards either, because the escalator was completely full of people behind us. People on the platform above were totally unaware of the issue and kept boarding the escalator.
There was screaming and panic as I and other riders were pushed forward by the escalator, crushing into the people in front of us. More people smashed into our bodies from behind as the escalator dumped them off and I felt something sharp and hard slam into my back (perhaps the edge of a hard sided briefcase), pushing me forward into the wall of people in front of me. People were screaming for help, and screaming to get someone to push the emergency stop button on the escalator in order to stop the continued descent of unaware people into the crush.
I was pushed forward by the crowd and tried to stay on my feet to avoid being trampled. A pocket of space opened up and I moved toward it, yelling for help.
— Tim B. (@TimBlaze) August 15, 2014
About 30 feet from the escalator, I saw two metro transit police officers and one metro employee in a yellow vest standing on the platform, unaware of the chaos. They were facing away from the escalator, monitoring the tracks. I ran to them and told them about the situation on the escalator, pointing to the one working down-direction escalator and explaining what was happening.
One metro transit police officer stayed where I was on the platform, while the other two walked away to investigate. The metro officer who stayed on the platform indicated there had been problems since 5am and they were under-staffed. The officers had been stationed on the platform edge, trying to keep people on the crowded platforms from falling onto the tracks and being hit by trains as they pulled into the station. The platform where we stood was not that crowded at the moment, and I told him that they also needed staff at the escalator making sure that when the influx of Blue/Yellow riders got off and needed to transfer (as Metro has been encouraging Blue Riders to do), they monitored for overcrowding at the escalator.
Shaken and sore, I waited to board a Yellow Line train. The train that pulled into the station was too full to board. I moved down the platform and was able board the next train, backtracking through DC to my stop. My normal 30 minute commute had taken an hour and a half, and given me a painful and frightening understanding of the term “dangerously overcrowded”.
This incident today underlines what can happen when Metro reduces or cuts Blue Line service. Without Blue Line as a viable option, riders who would normally take Blue are forced to congregate at an already crowded transfer station. Rather than spreading riders out throughout the system, Metro is forcing Blue riders to convene at already crowded stations which can’t accommodate so many riders safely at once. Combined with a lack of staff to enforce crowd control, this sets the stage for the dangerous situation I witnessed this morning.
If you experienced problems this morning, please share your story with us on Twitter (@SavetheBlueLine) or via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), and make sure to contact Metro and let them know this is unacceptable.