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Orange Line Problems Explained

Major delays on the Orange and Blue lines this morning were caused by a combination of problems: an Orange line train had a brake problem outside the Foggy Bottom Metrorail station, the operator of the Blue line train that was supposed to push the disabled train wasn't able to communicate with the disabled train's operator, and a switch problem at the Arlington Cemetery station made everything worse.
As a result, at least 12,000 riders had to get off 10 trains that were turned back at various locations to deal with the backups that built up along the Blue and Orange lines between 8 and 9 a.m., officials said.
The problem began at 7:56 a.m. when a six-car Orange Line train, No. 912, had a brake problem outside the Foggy Bottom station as it was headed to New Carrollton, via downtown. A Blue Line train behind it, No. 415, was supposed to push the disabled train.
But for 15 to 20 minutes, the operator of the Blue Line train was unable to communicate with the operator of the broken down train, said Bryan Bender, 37, an Alexandria resident who was on the Blue Line train and listening to the radio conversations.
"One of the real hold-ups was the conductor of our train could not reach the conductor in front of us," said Bender, who was standing outside the operator's cab. He kept saying, "this is 415 trying to reach 912, please answer."
Train operators have hand-held radios and also use a radio system in the train cab that connects them directly to the operations control center, which oversees all train movements. Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the two trains were in a "dead spot" in the tunnel outside Foggy Bottom that affected their ability to communicate directly to one another, both on the hand-held radios and the radio system in the train cabs.
The control center had full radio communication with the trains and with maintenance personnel and rail supervisors, he said. The control center was able to direct the trains at all times, he said. At some point, the Blue Line train moved about three feet closer to the disabled train and the operators of the two trains could hear each other, Taubenkibel said.
Riders aboard the disabled Orange Line train were delayed for 51 minutes, he said. The Blue Line train eventually linked up with and pushed the disabled train to Foggy Bottom, where riders on both trains had to get off. The now 12-car train went through a switch just past Foggy Bottom and reversed direction and headed on the Blue line to the Alexandria rail yard.
Around the same time, Metro had a switch problem outside the Arlington Cemetery station, which added to the delays. In total, 10 trainloads of passengers had to get off so trains could be turned around at different spots, Taubenkibel said. Train delays ended at 9:05 a.m.

-Lena H. Sun

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 1, 2009; 5:09 PM ET
 
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