By BRETT ZONGKER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) Hundreds of Metro riders in downtown Washington escaped serious injury when a six-car red line Metro train derailed Friday near the Farragut North station, officials said.
Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said only the front wheels of the train's first car slipped off the rail just after 10 a.m. Friday, but the car did not hit anything.
D.C. fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said there were 345 passengers on board and three people had minor injuries with bumps and bruises.
Authorities blocked traffic and closed the station for a couple hours, as they evacuated the train. Large crowds could be seen exiting the station. The station reopened by early afternoon.
Metro said passengers were moved to the last four cars of the train, and those cars detached from the front two cars and then moved to the platform to unload passengers. Pat Butcher, 52, of Springdale, Md., said she was on her way to work for the first time this week after two winter storms when the train derailed in a tunnel.
"There was a big jolt forward ... and it stopped." Butcher, who was in the last car of the train, said passengers were calm, but she recalled Metro's June crash that killed nine people.
"I kept seeing that image in my head," she said.
Metro said the train derailed from a pocket or side track after leaving the station. Passengers say the train had been moving slowly before it suddenly stopped.
"There was just that big stop and it was stuck there," said Lauren Stebbins, 25, of Washington.
The federal government had a two-hour delay after being closed all week because of two snowstorms that hit the region. Metro ran limited underground service for much of the week before reopening several aboveground lines Friday.
Barbara Bent, 47, of Silver Spring, Md., said she was trying to get to her job as a nursing assistant, when the train derailed.
"We felt a big jolt, but we were fine," she said. Bent, who was in the third car, said the train operator kept saying "keep calm" and she was asked to get up and move to the back of the train.
The derailment comes after last summer's fatal collision when one train slammed into another that was stopped on the tracks, as well as a series of accidents that have killed Metro workers, including one that killed two employees last month.
The National Transportation Safety Board has a three-day public hearing starting Feb. 23 on its investigation into the cause of the June crash. NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said the agency has begun an investigation into Friday's derailment and will send Jim Southworth, the board's chief of railroad safety, to the scene. Metro also is investigating.
Metro ran some traffic by the derailed train, which alarmed some passengers on the derailed train.
Teri Mack, 43, of Cheltenham, Md., was on the train that derailed with her 12-year-old son, Tyler, heading to her job as an accountant in Bethesda, when they felt a bump.
"It was a different kind of sound, kind of like a little skidding and we stopped," she said.
Mack said they saw another train going by them on another track and it seemed to be moving at a high speed.
"The part that was most unnerving was when another train came by us ... and I was like 'Oh my God are they going to hit us?'" she said.
After hearing about the June Metro train crash, she was worried about whether the train operators were communicating after coming to a sudden stop.
Metro said trains running between Farragut North and Dupont Circle would be restricted to 25 mph.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)