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Riders Complain About Lack of Information

Many riders have told us they were frustrated about the lack of information available from any Metro source after the crash. People stuck on Red Line trains said they knew only that there was a problem up the line. Many riders were aboard trains that held for lengthy periods without clear announcements about the extent of the problem, how long they'd be holding, where they would eventually wind up or what they could do until then.

They said this lack of useful information applied whether they were listening for platform announcements, statements from train operators, or reading e-mailed alerts from Metro.

Reporters in stations were confirming that. And I could see it myself in the e-mail alerts as as I tried to post usable information here on the blog. Metro continues to have trouble getting out accurate and timely information after a major incident. Riders need to know how bad the problem is and what options they have.

Part of the problem, of course, was that Metro officials themselves were struggling to understand the extent of the disaster, which was the worst in the history of the transit authority. Some of the information about the crash and about the aftermath was unclear or contradictory. That extended until quite late last night, when it was unclear whether the Red Line service today would go up as far as Brookland Station before breaking off, or whether the temporary terminus would continue to be Rhode Island Avenue, as it turned out to be.

Having worked in this business for 30 years, I know that early information in a disaster often turns out to be wrong.

In this case, Metro officials themselves were unsure early on what they were dealing with. The first word to us was that a derailment had occurred, then that a second train had struck a derailed train. Only gradually did the true nature of the incident become clear as more officials arrived on the scene.

Riders complained that they were advised that a "police incident" had occurred but were not told that a crash had occurred. This is typical Metro language in a rider alert. We've debated the issue before. Some riders just want the bottom line on what they should do. I favor full disclosure on the nature of the incident.

Metro is in a bit of a bind, caught between wanting to advise the tens of thousands of people rapidly getting caught in a rush-hour jam and wanting to make sure the information is accurate. It's often tough to achieve both. But I do hope that Metro will engage in a thorough after-action analysis of how it could improve rider communications.

I do see evidence of much better communications today, based on the planning that went on overnight. It's those early hours of an emergency that continue to be the problem.

Tell us your experiences and how you think the communications could be improved.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 23, 2009; 9:40 AM ET
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I was at Silver Spring, on what I later worked out must have been either one or two trains behind the one that did the rear-ending. (I got to the platform at 5:01 p.m.) There was *NO* information being given at Silver Spring except the standard "mechanical difficulties" announcement. When they finally had the bus bridge set up and running, they announced it by having one Metro employee shuffling down the platform and mumbling, "No trains running, all the trains isn't running, there's buses" every 20 yards. I was on the phone with my fiancé and a houseguest, both back at my apartment in Arlington, who were feeding me information they were getting from this blog (THANKS!) and from the local news, but not from the Metro directly. A guy with an iPhone was also getting information from online and he and I were trying to tell passengers around us that there was an accident, and injuries, and that they should give up on the train. (I was waiting for a ride by then.)

If Metro had just said, "There is an emergency situation, potentially with injuries, trains will be holding until further notice," they'd have gotten a lot more cooperation and good will. Folks will suck it up and deal when other people's lives are on the line but for the 400th "mechanical difficulties" in a week, not so much. The good news is, the Metro employees running the bus bridge from RI Ave to Silver Spring this morning were all genial and helpful.

Posted by: EtoilePB | June 23, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

washington post text alerts have been the most helpful of any alerts I get in DC, including the District's own emergency alert system, which are incredibly vague. WaPo texts are brief, pertinent and specific. I appreciated them yesterday.

Posted by: NatsNut | June 23, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I was going to commend Metro for the way the operators handled it. I actually got caught in the track work between Van Ness and Friendship Heights at 4:45, and so was on the other arm of the system when the accident happened.

But I was very pleased with the way that the train operator continued to inform passengers that the train was holding. THis was, of course, not before or involving the total shutdown at the other end of the line.

I think we all, as riders, need to also take a minute and be understanding that when a major, major thing happens like this, Metro can't do too much to solve it or know what to do. Be understanding. Take your time, relax. Getting upset, worked up and angry doesn't help anything. Or would you rather have been on the trains that collided? Perspective. It's something too many of us in DC miss.

Posted by: DCCenturion | June 23, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I completely agree with EtoilePB. Metro should have given a more serious annoucement after the crash. I entered the Metro Center station at 5:30 to ride to Silver Spring having no idea what was going on. They were only saying that there was a train with mechanical problems at Fort Totten and that the Red line was closed between Brookland and Takoma. I thought that sounded strange and wondered why they were not single tracking. So, I thought I would ride one stop to Gallery Place and get on the Green line. It wasn't until another passenger told me there had been a crash and that the trains were not moving at all that I realized I needed to walk to Gallery Place instead.

I can understand not wanting people to panic. But, they should have at least said it was an emergency situation to help explain the seriousness. Instead, we got the same tepid annoucement they give when a train has door problems.

Posted by: SweetieJ | June 23, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Metro's emailed alerts were useless and often inaccurate. Several of the alerts, and even some station announcements, simply reported a "disruption" or "mechanical difficulty" near Ft. Totten. They used the same descriptors for the delay at Woodley Park this morning.

At 10:17pm last night, one alert read: "(ID 55700) Disruption at All Stations was cleared. Thank you for riding Metro."

Posted by: mcljphillips | June 23, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Metro alerts were completely useless. I got my first at National Airport while retrieving my luggage. "mechanical difficulties" is not two trains colliding and closing the East Side of the Red Line for the foreseeable future.

I could have taken a cab from the airport, but the4 lack of information from Metro created a 3 hour commute home.

Fire John Catoe.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | June 23, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

First I'd start by saying that I feel so bad for those who lost loved ones yesterday. It was truly a catastrophic event and I hope that the memories of your loved ones will help you through this difficult time.
I don't want to completely bash metro but I would like to say that I'm disappointed in their lack of communication. When I got on the train I knew that there had been a "mechanical difficulty" at Tenleytown so expected a slow trip home. When I got on the train at about 5:20 p.m. I continued to hear about these mechanical difficulties.
My cell phone started to burn up with notifications of voicemails. I had no idea why everyone was calling. Finally, I was able to receive a text message from a friend who told me of the situation. I arrived at Shady Grove 1.5 hours later and still they were only saying that there were mechanical difficulties. When I retrieved my voice mail messages, the first was from my father, who lives in upstate NY, who had heard about the accident. How can people around the country know that there was something a bit more serious than a mechanical difficulty and I didn't?

Posted by: KVL98 | June 23, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

It's very simple. Any Metro rider wanting relief from "information deficit anxiety" has have to assume the attitude of an ADULT: this is not a perfect world and everyone is doing his best with what he has at the moment. If no more reliable info is available, huffing and puffing about wanting more info will not produce it. Assess the info you have and make your decision as to what you personally need to do as a responsible adult.

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | June 23, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I was on the Green Line, at the time of the crash or very shortly after. The conductor of my train told us that there had been a collision of two trains on the Red Line--quite a surprise as they NEVER seem to tell us what's going on, even if it affects our own line directly.

Posted by: MrDarwin | June 23, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

The irritating aspect of all this for me is that the email alerts I was getting from WMATA just constantly stated that a train was experiencing mechanical difficulties outside of Ft. Totten. Then it changed to stating that trains were turning back at Rhode Island Avenue but still only because of a train experiencing mechanical difficulties. I received four of these emails before AlertDC emailed/texted my phones that two Metrorail trains had collided. Three more "mechanical difficulties" emails came from Metro, then they changed their story to a "police situation" in an email at 9:03 pm. This vagueness is not only frustrating but disrespectful, in my opinion, to WMATA "customers" and the people that were on those trains.

I was, incidentally, stuck on a train with all car doors open at Metro Center for what felt like 20 minutes. The operator announced once we stopped that there had been an emergency and we wouldn't be going anywhere for awhile. Eventually they announced that the train would be terminating at Rhode Island Avenue. There was a Metro employee speaking with people outside of the cars and seemed to be doing a good job of directing people on how to get home. Everyone in my car seemed relatively calm but I am sure that riders on other trains did not receive the same kind of courtesy.

Posted by: lbradner | June 23, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I arrive at the Huntington station around 5PM, there was an announcement that was barely audible about a problem with the Red Line. Since I was going to Dupont circle I was interested. When I arrived at Gallery Place there was another anouncement about the Red line, again almost inaudible. I asked a fellow passengers and they couldn't understand the message. Need to make the anouncements loud and clear. Why wasn't there an anouncement about using the Yellow/Green lines to get to Fort Totten, only you would be bused there on the red line.

Posted by: PaulO2 | June 23, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I entered Bethesda station around 6:30 pm yesterday. There were signs posted on the farecard turnstiles indicating that there were delays on the red line, and announcements on the display screens. Pretty good overall, but I have to take issue with the fact that the display screens attributed the delay to "a police situation," which wasn't entirely accurate or helpful.

Posted by: aqbailey | June 23, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I was at Brookland CUA station waiting and waiting. It took 50 minutes before I realized something was really wrong. I wish Metro would have said that there would be no more trains at all for whatever reason it had happened to let the riders look for other alternative. I've got to know the bad news when my boss called me to see if I was doing ok and in my way home.
Although it is understandable given the serious accident, we might have appreciated somebody saying: Please go and look for other type of transportation for this evening" Thanks.

Posted by: wenlor | June 23, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I think their first concern should be getting help and assistance to those injured or trapped. You people act like this was a routine event and they somehow did a poor usual, selfish, impatient people are complaining about not being told something. Did it ever occur to you dimwits that maybe there were a few other pressing matters to take care of first?...Be glad it wasn't you trapped in the wreckage and shut the hell up.

Posted by: ftbindc | June 23, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

It is encouraging that others on the system, either incoming or on the other red line arm did not have significant problems. Outgoing was obviously another story. my train stopped at Rhode Island at 5:15 and has been noted there was little reported that sounded as if anything other than normal service disruptions were afoot. That was still the case for the balance of trip home. It was abundantly clear that those Metro employees at Rhode lsland, Takoma, Fort Totten and Silver Spring (I stopped at each) were also not well informed. Clearly there was no training for such a situation. For example metro police and employees were unclear how to route buses in the stations. Shuttle buses and buses going their regular routes were indistinguishable and created crowd control problems. Metro needed a playbook for a track disruption and does not have one. Metro employees did not know what to tell people taking buses but importantly had no clue how to logistically reroute passengers or buses in the case of emergency. While no one could have anticipated what happened yesterday, post 9-11 I would have thought Metro had a plan in case of track getting taken out. Yesterday proved that is not the case. Metro is checking bags rather than practicing for any real disaster management.

Posted by: keelyhazel | June 23, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

This morning Metro was still refering to the "events" at Fort Totten and announcement on Green Line kept telling people to spread out to all cars: who would want to be in a front or rear car of a Metro train today?

Posted by: naomi5 | June 23, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I might be willing to cut Metro some slack for being vague about yesterday's tragedy shortly after it happened, whether due to poor communication internally or perhaps to keep those of us in the system at that time from freaking out. However, this morning the PA announcements kept referring to delays "due to a situation outside the Ft. Totten station." Really? You mean the "situation" that ripped two trains apart and killed people?

I might accept 'THE' situation, given Metro's preference for euphemisms and understatement, but "a" situation, like a sick passenger or something? Come on, Mr. Catoe. It's a bit late for Metrospeak.

Posted by: typedancer | June 23, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I knew from family that there had been an accident on the red line before I left my office last night, so I checked Metro's website. It reported an early Tenleytown "mechanical difficulty" but about the accident, the website only reported two trains with "mechanical difficulties" at Fort Totten. It was so understated that it wasn't even clear from the website that there had been an accident at all, so I went to the red line instead of trying to find an alternative to get home. The alert was also not prominent on the site. I had to look for the alert, in the bottom left hand corner of the site. It would be better to have a front-and-center alert that really conveys the seriousness of the problem, with links to find alternative bus routes. Metro doesn't need to have all the details, but an hour after a serious accident, they know enough to more effectively warn of serious delays and provide web help with alternatives so people can get home

Posted by: littlearmenia | June 23, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Regarding a previous comment - I too had text messages, voicemails, and e-mail blazing from coworkers, family, and friends, wanting to know my whereabouts (I happened to be stuck on a packed-like-sardines northbound Red line train at NY Ave. when all traffic halted. It's ironic that I learned from them about the seriousness of the situation and not from Metro staff operating the trains and stations. Granted, it had just happened. but nonetheless, there was no advice and no indication what to do. People gingerly started leaving the station without knowing whether to wait or not (fortnately, I was at a station- it would have been hideous to be have been stuck between stations.)

Posted by: ermiwe | June 23, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

My thoughts go out to those whose loved ones died or were involved in yesterday's crash. WMATA, don't trivialize these people's tragedies by attributing this crash to a "police situation," "mechanical difficulties" or the ever-useless "disruption."

Posted by: sharonmyep | June 23, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I guess one train being on top of another would qualify as a mechanical difficulty...

Posted by: Axel2 | June 23, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Jeez, Metro had more important things to do, like trying to save lives and dealing with a terrible incident and disruption. The "frustrated" riders should suck it up. Besides, in the Blackberry era, I'm sure there was at least one person in each delayed car who could tell the others what was going on. That Metro did not deal with an unprecedented situation as fast as these people would like does not mean Metro did anything wrong.

Posted by: ggreenbaum | June 23, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

As a Red Line veteran (27 years), I always doubt the truth of Metro announcements concerning "incidents." When my Glenmont-bound train stopped at Union Station about 5:30 p.m., I waited a few minutes and then rushed for a cab upstairs. Commuters and tourists were still pouring into the station, with no effort made to stop them or even inform them that there was a problem in one direction. There was a large traffic jam outside the station, but the trip home up North Capitol was fairly uneventful until New Hampshire Avenue, which required a slight detour. Cell phone service was sporadic near the site of the crash but otherwise I was able to communicate with my wife, who was watching TV news. Moral: Never trust the Metro announcers, move quickly and find alternate travel means.

Posted by: mcharles1 | June 23, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

For some reason, large organizations generally let their accounting departments do their engineering and their marketing departments do their communicating with the public. "Mechanical difficulties" and "police incident" don't get me where I intended to be going. It was pretty clear early on, from local news reports on the TV, what had happened. Does Metro's command center have a TV? Or a radio? I'm sure they could have patched WTOP 103.5 into the PA system. But, "Mechanical difficulties" it was, to speed you on your way. It must be nice to live in a mental world of your own construction in which bad things never ever happen. And, when they do, you deny they did.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | June 23, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

They informed you there were problems on the Red Line, which there were. If you want Headline news then get a smartphone.

Posted by: Krazijoe | June 23, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Dr. G.

I just received this email from Metro:

9:54 AM - (ID 55716) Disruption at Fort Totten. Due to a situation outside Fort Totten station, customers traveling on or connecting to the Red Line are encouraged to add an additional 30 minutes to their travel time.

They continue to be mealymouthed about what occurred. Accurate information, even if worrisome, gives we commuters the best ability to alter our behavior and reduce delays.

Mr. Catoe. At this point everyone on God's earth knows what occurred. Why does Metro continue to be so asinine in your updates?

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | June 23, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

As part of a bigger picture, the fact that metro referred to this as a "mechanical difficulty" for long after it happened is deeply troubling. What trust or respect will riders have the next time something happens? Or, heaven forbid, a terrorist event? Mischaracterizing major events erodes trust among the riders; however, during an emergency, trust is just what's needed.

Posted by: usuallychill | June 23, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Ditto on the lack of information yesterday. I was on a Bethesda-bound train at 5:20 and the info about the delay was typically sparse. Today was worse - can't they turn off the regular 'welcome to Metro' announcements on a day like this? Can't they actually say 'accident'? Metro needs a total communications revamp. And repair - Red Line had another breakdown at Woodley Park around 9:15 this morning, delaying everyone even more.

Posted by: timLsung | June 23, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I got on the red line at Glenmont at about 4:45pm and couldn't have been more than a train or two ahead of the one that was hit. We started experiencing slow-downs and stopping between stations before we got to Silver Spring, and the operator told us it was due to a shared track further up the line. Once we cleared Fort Totten and Catholic U, the delays became significantly longer and more frequent, but we were only told that they were due to "a train experiencing mechanical problems on the track."

Although there was nothing that I, or anyone else, could have done when stuck between stations, I think knowing that there was truly a catastrophic problem would have made some people more understanding of the situation, rather than jumping to the conclusion of managerial ineptitude. I appreciate that our operator continuously updated us on the delays and when we would be staying at stations until further notice, but useful information would have been nice, especially for people who could have hopped off at the next station and walked to their destination faster. I checked the WMATA mobile site several times from my cell phone and it only mentioned that there were delays through Tenleytown/AU. I did not know about any accident until I got off the train downtown at 5:50pm when family members turned on the news and began calling to make sure I was okay.

Posted by: studek | June 23, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I was at Metro Center around 6 p.m., trying to get on the red line. The metro announcements were still talking about a train experiencing a mechanical difficulty and hundreds upon hundreds were massed on the red line platform. The announcer said something about seeing a station manager to be refunded fare. I took a good look at the crowd on the platform and decided to spend some time downtown. On my way out I saw a queue of metro customers trying to be refunded their fare. The metro manager was smirking at them and saying he couldn't help them, which conflicted with the advice from the metro announcer. No one was making any effort to warn passengers entering the system about red line delays. Customer service? Not so much.

While some metro staff at the site of the accident were preoccupied with saving lives, those in other stations probably did not know what was going on. It's not selfish to want to get home to loved ones or to use metro to get to a second job. Many people rely on metro and the system has responsibilities to passengers.

Posted by: ap397 | June 23, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

As one that frequently complains, i think this incident is one time where i think we all need to take a step back and let the process work itself out. Here were are over 12-15 hours later and we still don't know more than we did yesterday at 5pm or 6pm. so all i can say it folks lets relax and be patients on this one. let the NTSB do their job, and let make sure WMATE/Metro takes action on the safety fixes and recommendations.

Posted by: oknow1 | June 23, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock says that "he sees evidence of much better communication today". I don't, at least not from the Metro alerts. I ride the red line everyday to Metro Center from the Shady Grove Side. LAte last night a Metro ALert said, basically, All is well with world, thanks for riding MetroRail. This morning the radio news station indicated that it would be better not to ride the red line. MetroAlert kept referring to a "Disruption" at Fort Totten. I fully understand the confusion immediately after an accident as severe as the one yesterday and the immediate concern for the injured and the need not to send out false info. But as many other bloggers have noted, once the situation is clear it is far better to know what is going on than to have the type of alerts that have been sent out. They are disrespectful, offensive, and certainly don't help Metro's image or the desire of passengers to have patience and understanding.

Posted by: jfrogel1 | June 23, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

And, yes, I was only delayed getting home, not killed or injured. Those who were deserve all of our compassion. But the lesson still holds: doubt Metrospeak and keep moving.

Posted by: mcharles1 | June 23, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I do think, however, that while taking a bit of time to calm down and have some perspective, an above commentator was correct that the right thing to do is to tell people. Maybe not the full extent, though I'd go that far, but that there was an emergency. The more information Metro can give, the better. I think they'll get that.

Posted by: DCCenturion | June 23, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I don't think people are truly blaming WMATA for not going into in-depth detail while they have thousands of passengers sitting on trains. The problem comes in that they were deliberately vague about the seriousness and long-term delays that the system was experiencing.

mcharles1's story about folks streaming in to Union Station with no WMATA personnel on hand directing customers to the various bus routes or cabs is unacceptable. You knew that no trains were going beyond Rhode Island Avenue and that delays heading towards Shady Grove were growing by the second. You need to stop people and turn them around.

WMATA consistently fails at communicating with its passengers. I think we can all be understanding about horrific incidents like what happened, but WMATA *MUST* inform people honestly about what the situation most realistically is. Adding 30 minutes to a Red Line trip was not going to cut it.

Posted by: meredithand | June 23, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

meh...seems like metro has bigger problems to worry EtoilePB mentioned, many people have mobile Internet and can find things out pretty quickly and spread the news to others.

Use common sense; if you're waiting more 30 minutes more than usual, assume the worst and bail. That's what drivers do on the road.

Posted by: mediajunky | June 23, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

My sympathy to the people who lost loved ones and/or were injured.
However, to the posters suggesting that Metro had better things to do and we shouldn't be complaining, I respectfully disagree.
Yes, the police, fire and rescue had MANY better things to do. Some WMATA employees at the scene, or being sent to the scene because they are security or mechanics,etc. had MANY better things to do.
The employees of WMATA whose job it is provide system-wide announcements (from an office somewhere) needed to do their jobs: keep the riders that were still in, or continuing to enter, the system updated as to the real situation. I would think that one of the better ways to deal with a "disruption" caused by a "serious incident" would be to tell people using the system so that other transportation options could be found and utilized, and some of the strain taken off of the system.

Posted by: indolentcin1 | June 23, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I was very frustrated at the continued vagueness of the announcements. I was trying to get from Bethesda to Van Ness and waited at Bethesda while the platform got dangerously crowded for more than 45 minutes without a single train. In the meantime, seven - count them, seven - trains going in the opposite direction came in. I was completely clueless about what was going on until I FINALLY got home. Email alerts would have helped, but -- wait a minute -- I'm on AT & T.

Posted by: sandydc1 | June 23, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I, too, was in the metro (at Metro Center) when the crash occurred.

Frankly, I think Metro was right in not informing passengers what was happening. I think it would have led to a panic.

A few years ago, I was on a plane which had to make an emergency landing. The airline simply told people on the ground that our flight had been delayed. Again, I think this was the right call as it helped forestall a panic.

In all of this, I hope no one forgets that Metro transports thousands of riders every day without a mishap.

Posted by: Amlphd | June 23, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree that Metro had a very tragic incident on their hands, but to those who tell other commuters to cut them some slack, the fact is Metro needs to be able to multi-task. Metro must be able to handle effectively juggling many balls if a tragic incident occurs. It should be unacceptable that such poor information was disseminated to people. By referring to this incident as mechanical difficulties only serves to cause people to dismiss or distrust metro announcements in the future, which is a real danger if metro ever needs to alert metro riders to a future danger.

We should be concerned about how long it took to alert the riders of the metro and how that information was characterized. It is not just about a convenience issue it is also a safety issue.

Posted by: trailblazer1 | June 23, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I was appalled at the utter lack of information that METRO was broadcasting in their stations. I was leaving the office at around 5:45 pm, had received some un-informational text messages about "mechanical difficulties" on the redline, then got a call from a friend asking if I was alright as there had been a terrible accident on the red line.

I found NO information on the wmata site, and got the straight scoop from Washington Post and CNN instead. When I got to Foggy Bottom, the announcer was saying there were delays due to MECHANICAL DIFFICULTIES on the red line. Good to see that Metro likes to keep things on the down low. A few fatalities = mechanical difficulties on their scale. Utterly disgusting.

Posted by: soverybored | June 23, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

METRO was indeed horrible when it came to giving useful information yesterday. I got to Union Station (heading towards Gallery Place) about 5pm yesterday. I got on a train, the doors closed, we pulled forward into the tunnel and then and ONLY THEN did the operator say there had been 2 train mechanical problems and we would hold for an indefinite time.

Why didn't he make this announcement before we departed Union Station!

25 minutes later we reach Judiciary Square, and I bailed and walked to Archives. At that point I had received multiple "alerts" from METRO but they all said that there was a mecahnical problem at Fort Totten. METRO should have been honest and said there had been a serious accident, then people could've known to find alternatives instead of being led to believe it might be the usual short delay for a train with malfunctioning doors!

Posted by: bnofan1 | June 23, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

While I wasn't on the metrorail at the time of the incident, I have ridden the system plenty of times. My only concern for metro did this happen?? The system is supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening, whether the train is on automatic or manual.

Posted by: coprogirl | June 23, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I was on the Red Line going to Silver Spring, having transferred on from the Green Line about 4:30. I wish we'd have been told it was a derailment, as, in all candor, the thoughts running through my head were about terrorists in Washington or some kind of national emergency.

Posted by: stevkatz14 | June 23, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

To the bizarre collection of terms that Metro uses, I have to throw in the one that our conductor repeated over and over again to those of us holding at the Farragut North Metro station after 5:30 yesterday evening in the direction of Shady Grove: "We have a black black situation." Huh? It would have been better to say what it actually was (i.e., an accident) than to use this strange code that no one understood. It was very surreal that so many people outside the system knew what was going on due to media coverage, but we were all in the dark inside the system. Everyone was pretty patient, but understanding the full scope of the situation would have made us even more understanding.

As it was, I give kudos to Metro for getting me home as quickly as they did. Once the trains stopped holding in place, I got home via the west end of the red line fairly quickly.

Posted by: Amwi1 | June 23, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I think we can blame WMATA for having an inadequate emergency plan and for failing to communicate any plan. In the event of a true emergency we will need to band together. I was amazed that WMATA was unable to communicate any plan. I got on "shuttle" from Rhode Island Ave, that never informed its riders that it had become an emergency shuttle. The bus got lost on it was to Fort Totten. The driver had been provided inaccurate, hand-written instructions on how to get to Fort Totten. After seeing that we were at 3rd and Florida Ave NW, the passengers assisted the driver in finding her way to Fort Totten. The driver seemingly had no ability to communicate with either her passengers nor any central authority. I am grateful to the dirver and my fellow passengers for utlimately getting us safely to Fort Totten, where my husband picked me up.

My lesson learned was know your own alternate paths. Have your own emergency plan. Keep moving towards your direction.

I certainly worry about the area's ability to respond to a regional emergency and in fact am confident what WMATA is NOT prepared.

Posted by: mgorrick | June 23, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I think the posters saying "Be happy you didn't die" and "Metro had better things to do" are being more than a bit obtuse. Yes, there was a horrible accident with multiple fatalities. Does an emergency excuse Metro from informing its passengers about what happened? Has no other light rail system ever had an accident in the history of mankind? Is Metro's massive organization incapable of handling more than a handful of priorities at once?

I work for a transportation company myself, and I know that communicating with ALL affected passengers is one of the highest priorities when an accident takes place affecting the system. It can't wait -- and it shouldn't wait. If you're running a transit company and there is an accident, the last thing you want are hundreds (or thousands) of stranded passengers milling around your system when they could be directed to leave and explore other options. You don't want to make them think such an emergency is in any way 'routine', or else they will be reluctant to cooperate with your instructions.

Posted by: jcabana | June 23, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Metro didn't have to say there was an "accident," but it could have said there was an incident that is causing delays and people should find another way to get home. Also, people should have been told that before they entered the system. When I hear "mechanical difficulty," I think the problem is going to be cleared in a few minutes and we'll be on our way. This was definitely not a "mechanical difficulty" and Metro should be clearer about that.

Posted by: cwarddc | June 23, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

WaPo & Dr. G: Your up-to-date coverage is how the media should be keeping up with breaking news.

This interactive graphic ( shows that WMATA has gotten the point across before.

If you go to the second-to-last slide, you can see that the platform signs show that a station is closed with "TRAIN DERAILMENT" mentioned. Why couldn't they have done that now?

Posted by: sharonmyep | June 23, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

First of all, my thoughts go out to all of the victims of this horrendous tragedy. I have to agree with those calling out Metro for the poor communications, though. I didn't leave the city until well after the crash happened, so I knew what was going on and made alternate plans to keep from having to spend hours waiting on the Red Line, but when I finally did make it to a station around 7 PM, I was pretty stunned to see the announcements of "mechanical difficulties" and a "police situation" at Fort Totten. I mean, seriously, everyone knew by that point what had happened. And everyone DEFINITELY knew by this morning what had happened, but the signs at Shady Grove this morning continued to advertise a "police situation". It can't possibly be that hard to type a more accurate message into the computer that controls the display boards, or for the conductors to give passengers a heads-up about the situation. As an earlier poster mentioned, passengers would appreciate being given the opportunity to find another way home, or at least being sufficiently informed that they know why they've been sitting in a tunnel for two hours.

Posted by: ASinMoCo | June 23, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Nine people loss their lives yesterday evening in a Metro Rail Train accident. You can feel and see the sadness in the Transit Employees eyes. Train Operators, Bus Drivers and many other employees see many of the riders that ride the Rail and Bus on a daily basic. So please give them some time before you start pointing fingers of who fault it was. Or how long you was waiting on a train.

Posted by: r2j17b62 | June 23, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I recieved a DCalert text message at approximately 5:43pm that there was a "2 train collision" on the Red Line in the direction of Silver Spring. It was brief and to the point so I knew well enough to avoid it and then saw the extent of the accident at home. It didn't take much guess work that a collision would result in injuries so I knew it was serious. Thankfully I wasn't going in that direction yesterday but I'm sure the 40 minutes between when the accident happened and when I got the text might be room for improvement but then again I'm used to waiting that long for info from Metro and usually long after an incident has occured.
As for those folks on this board telling us we're selfish about complaining about the lack of information, there's a difference between being selfish and not caring about the people hurt in the accident and having a legitimate concern for avoiding the location of an accident so we don't add to the logistical problem of hundreds of commuters stuck going nowhere. The less people on the lines the easier it will be to clear out the line and getting the system back to normal, that's the "responsible thing to do". If you're not a paramedic, figherfighter, or police, get out of the way. Having less people on the roads and tracks mean the rescue workers have more room to do their job.

Posted by: kblowry | June 23, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Bottom line: WMATA has had to close stations and provide shuttle buses for twenty years - and they still can't get it right. The cause of the need for shuttle buses has zero to do with the failure of WMATA to provide any directions about boarding the shuttle buses,where they were going, etc. I give WMATA an F minus.

Posted by: dezlboy1 | June 23, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

First of all, when people's lives are at stake, that takes precedence. Metro had a lot on its plate at that moment.

But second, it doesn't take much to make an annoucement throughout the system saying "We've had a major accident and there will be significant delays throughout the system."

I was on Metro at the time of the accident and had no clue what was happening. I finally left the system and found another way home once it became apparent that no trains were moving.

Posted by: InTheMiddle | June 23, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I was stuck on a train that had passed the Rhode Island Ave. station when this disaster happened. When it became clear to me that the delay couldn't have been due to merely "mechanical difficulties" I called a friend and asked him to look on the Washington Post website, and he told me that the site was reporting a major collision. Now, if the Post had that information, why did the Metro persist in telling us only about "mechanical difficulties"?

Posted by: robertcostic | June 23, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Like other readers who ride the Metro, I subscribe to DC Metro alerts and was promptly informed that there was an issue.
Regular riders who want to be informed and who are negatively commenting (as likely to have a phone that receives text messages as they are to have ready access to a computer) should consider doing the same. During a crisis, we cannot and should not expect emergency workers to put essential communication resources to use immediately taking care of circumstances other than communicating with first responders, key decisionmakers, etc.
Good golly, suck it up.

Posted by: Alexgirl | June 23, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Although I understand Metro authorities wanting to get the facts straight, they should have been more forthright with sharing whatever information they had. Fortunately I take a bus from my office to the Braddock Metro station and heard on 103.5 FM about the incident. This was around 5:30 and reports were about a recent train crash near Takoma Park--with the radio announcer strongly emphasising "these facts are not confirmed." I can deal with unconfirmed facts because at least I know where the trouble spot is and know that I should be okay to get home to Bethesda. And if the incident had been on my route home, I would've known before I got on the yellow line and could've changed my commute to take a bus from Georgetown to Friendship Heights or something.

The point is commuters need information and Metro should be supplying info about their own system.

The other issue is safety. Once the investigation is complete, I hope Metro takes appropriate action for our safety; whether they replace their equipment, increase training or, increase manual operation of trains. I realize money for these thing has to come from somewhere so if I have to pay an extra $1-2 dollars per day, it would be worth it.

Lastly, to the families and friends of those who were lost or injured, I just want to say my prayers are with you.

Posted by: sunrisesunset | June 23, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

The email I received at 5:38pm from AlertDC was far more helpful than anything Metro sent out, then or later. The AlertDC email read: "Metro reports that 2 train collided and one train is on top of the other train. Metro reports massive injuries at this time. The green line and the red line are affected. Further information to follow."

Compliments to whoever made the decision to send out information that captured the importance of what had happened.

Posted by: InVA1 | June 23, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

The SCAN-DC police/fire mailing list had the first alerts going out 9 minutes after the incident, beating most other news networks by 20-30 minutes. They also had the Holocaust shooting about 20 minutes before CNN/Post. It's raw unedited sometime (and wrong occasionally) but it's pretty darn fast.

Posted by: idiparker | June 23, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Actually I was wrong. The first SCAN-DC alert was out at 5:09 and the second at 5:17, so that's about 3 minutes after the incident. Pretty quick.

Posted by: idiparker | June 23, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I was on the train last night as everything happened, and there was absolutely no information given. We were held at New York Avenue with no explanation of why; it wasn't until people started calling home to tell their family members they were running late that anyone found out there had been a crash, or where. We were told there would be a shuttle from Rhode Island Ave, then told we had to offload immediately - with no explanation how to get to the shuttle a stop up! Then they started announcing it was "an extended police action" causing the delays. We didn't even need information about the specifics of what had happened, most of us just wanted to know where to go to eventually get *home*.

Posted by: twwtheovaloffice | June 23, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

"Metro is in a bit of a bind, caught between wanting to advise the tens of thousands of people rapidly getting caught in a rush-hour jam and wanting to make sure the information is accurate."

See, I have a quibble with this, because I don't think Metro cares about accuracy; I think they just don't want to look bad.

Everyone else in the city just wanted to know basics - for Pete's sake, there's a huge difference in "holding" delays, and if you just told people "major accident," that almost guarantees riders will make other plans to get around.

Instead, Metro treats its riders like morons who can't handle information; that, or they have morons working there who don't know how to communicate information - I suspect it's both.

On top of that, their stupid website was slow - I got info from other news sources much faster, and when Metro's site actually did come up, it wasn't even useful! - It mentioned an "incident," expect delays. What the --!

The problem with Metro is that they don't treat riders with any respect - I don't want to hear an announcement about how everything is "running on time;" that's patting yourself on the back for doing your job.

Riders want real information, right now, and they need to communicate it and get people off trains so they don't sit there hours on end while Metro tries to "figure out" what happened 10 stations away.

Posted by: nagatuki | June 23, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I was on the train that crashed into the stationary one. Metro is unprepared for disasters. No one came to our assistance for what seemed like 30 minutes (time was just a blur). There was one Metro employee and he was visibly shaken. Metro needs to review its disaster response policy and notification should be part of that. As it were, I relied on my relatives who I called and they gave me updates from watching the news.

Posted by: allie7 | June 23, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I'm willing to be inconvenienced for someone else's safety, but I'm concerned that the Metro-speak language, "police incident" "mechanical situation" etc, will diminish trust in Metro announcements in the future. I want "police incident" to be drug dealers and suspicious packages, not train-crash. I want "mechanical situation" to be doors that won't close, not one train atop another. I understand the desire not to panic people, but in the long run, this tactic could backfire.

Posted by: MarkMaker | June 23, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I have a question for all the whiners on here complaining of the lack of info (some are just saying that there was poor communication but didn't really complain, so this is for the whiners):

Would you have rather been on one of the trains in the accident? You should be grateful that you weren't hurt. Rather you complain because YOU were not given updates and accurate information. Maybe Metro was trying to save some lives instead of updating your stinking cell phone. Get a grip bozos.

Posted by: mike_zimmy | June 23, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Let's be honest, folks. Metro lies -- and it's not a new phenomenon. All the dodges -- "mechanical difficulties," "a situation" etc. -- are just ways to avoid telling the truth. Years ago, a couple hundred of us were standing on a platform next to a broken-down train while the Metro PA chirped that the problem was resolved and all was back to normal. We just laughed. This happens all the time on issues big and small, so of course riders now expect to be lied to all the time. I know other posters have said it, but to repeat: kudos to the WashPost, especially Dr. Gridlock, for more timely and more honest information. Metro needs to change its mindset and tell riders (and others) when problems are serious; even novice riders know that derailments and crashes won't be resolved soon and that it's time to find an alternative.

Posted by: Anton23 | June 23, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I was at the Gallery Place stop yesterday at 5:30 pm, and the announcements were totally intelligible. It was a constant stream of voice and static and difficult to understand individual words.

The air conditioning in the station was not working and at least one of the escalators was not working. These are minor inconveniences, but are indicative of the poorly maintained infrastructure that can in some instances be deadly.

Posted by: jm8110 | June 23, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I believe that of all the things that we as riders should learn from this horrible experience yesterday is to be prepared and to always have a back up plan. Familiarize yourself with your many people know where the emergency door switches are, how to contact the coductor in case of am emergency? Most importantly be aware of the area that we are traveling in. Be prepareed for slow trains but know how to get home via the bus or alternate route if you have to. CNN was posting the collision within minutes of its occurance.

Posted by: Liz817 | June 23, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

What is AlertDC and how do we get on it? It's obvious that metro refuses to inform it's riders of any meaningful information given that an email from WMATA an hour ago continues to refer to this collision as a "situation outside of Ft. Totten station".

Demand accountability. Fire John Catoe.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | June 23, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and for all the self-righteous posters who feel the need to chastise people complaining: shut the # up.


I'm sorry I have to shout it, but apparently there are some of you who can't read, on top of being other things I can't say here.

Asking for information when you're stuck on the system having a problem is NOT too much to ask; people have every right to get the same information that apparently people in NY got.

What? Metro doesn't get those announcements, about their own system?

Please. Anyone in their offices should've paid attention and concerned themselves with communicating: it's one of the first priorities in dealing with a disaster, and it's part of any government agency's job. If they can't do it, they need to be replaced, and people have every right to be upset.

Posted by: nagatuki | June 23, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

While I agree that Metro's first priority was to attend to those who were actually in the trains that crashed, this is not something that requires every single Metro employee's attention, to the exclusion of the other thousands of people in the system. And the continued messages this morning about an "incident" or a "disruptioin" at Fort Totten are very offensive to those killed or injured there.

It has always seemed to me that Metro's consistent use of understatement in their alerts was more about not wanting to lose customers to alternate transportation, rather than being about actually providing timely, accurate information about very real problems. Having grown up in a city where the available "public transportation" is a joke, I'm usually the first to give Metro some slack since I understand what the alternative would be if it wasn't there at all. But this is one area there Metro has repeatedly fallen on it's face. All of us deserve better than Metro provided yesterday afternoon.

Posted by: BuffaloGal78 | June 23, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Here is the information and sign-up page for AlertDC:

Posted by: InVA1 | June 23, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I am a Green Line rider, and the Green line is often crowded with riders going to the Nationals' games. With the lack of the newer series trains and ample communication was very frustrating in past years. But, Metro has improved overall with the digital bulletin boards at every station and having additional Metro workers on the platforms to control the crowds. Yesterday's accident was a heartbreaking tragedy and I send my condolesces out to all the families who were impacted by this tragedy. But, in my final opinion, it would not be wise to inform riders that a tragic accident has occurred, because I believe it would cause even more panic and confusion with the riders who are presently on the trains at the time. Stating over the PA system, that there is a "police incident" is suffice information. This should keep passengers calm enough and willing to listen for further instructions. If they were to know a train has derailed or crashed and passengers were on onboard and possibly deceased, would cause alot of confusion and immediate panic!!

Posted by: bigysmalz | June 23, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

What I would like to know is why this is causing delays on the Red line for stations not involved in the shuttle buses? Trains have to turn around someplace and go the other direction. Now, it's happening elsewhere. Keep the rest of the Red line moving.

Posted by: r6345 | June 23, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm adding to the wave of complaints about Metro not forthcoming to passengers on the line yesterday and this morning about the train accident. I'd like to be one more voice so they pay attention to this matter and improve communication should anything like this ever happen again. My situation was that I breezed through the ticket gates at Chinatown and so I barely saw a sticker on the gate saying Alert, Metro delay, but I sailed through at my quick pace. It would have been more efficient for the station manager or personnel (who wear the neon vests) to be making verbal announcements at the entry/exit gates to get people's immediate attention. They do this sometimes at the platform for other matters such as to spread out or that next coming train is out of service, etc. Where was the personnel at Gallery Place when I came in at 5:45pm? What about the tourists who do not read English? How would they have know to turn back? Unfortunately the periodic announcements over the intercom were brief and uninformative. The suggestion was to seek alternative transportation. However I was headed in a different direction then where the "mechanical failure" occurred so I'm left in doubt if I should be someone seeking alternative transportation or just to wait (for how long?). Also being underground I do not have cell phone reception and no way of knowing what the 'real' situation was. It was not until at night on the news that I saw just how serious it was. The announcements at metro did not communicate that there was a 'serious' accident and this was a situation to perceive diffirently from the regular mechanical failures and derailments that seem to be frequent. I echo what others have said that this lack of communication in an emergency situation is a DISSERVICE to passengers. If this were a terrorist situation, how would Metro have announced it? As a regular Metor rail passenger I do not want to be uninformed in any 'situation' or 'incident' as they put it. Customer service please.

Posted by: metrorider24-7 | June 23, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Some Metro officials were providing helpful information yesterday. When I arrived at McPherson Square at about 5:40, a station attendant was explaining to incoming passengers that no trains were running between Rhode Island Ave and Silver Spring, and that you'd have to take a shuttle bus between these stations. While he wasn't filling people in on the extent of the tragedy, it was sufficient information to make alternative plans to get home before getting stuck in the Metro system. Others who, like me, took the S4 bus from downtown to Silver Spring yesterday evening were also diverted there by Metro attendants at various stations. I didn't hear any official announcements from Metro, but am grateful to the attendants who were trying to help commuters.

Posted by: DCnative15 | June 23, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

There are two things that we should all learn from the communications fiasco (if we haven't already learned from experiences in the past):

1. You cannot expect reliable information on the extent of problems and delays -- unless you happen to come across a particularly helpful and informed station manager, no one will tell you whether this is a 20-minute glitch or total stoppage. As others have said, if you're not moving in 10 or 20 minutes, you're probably better off bailing and fighting for a cab. Unless, of course, you're stuck in a tunnel before they tell you something is up.

2. If there ever is an attack on Metro, passengers will not know. I know that if I were vaguely told there was a "police incident" of some kind, and nothing more, I would immediately wonder whether it was an attack --and whether I might be sitting in the next target.

As others have pointed out, none of this bodes well in the event of an attack or evacuation.

Posted by: Janine1 | June 23, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Hello all,

What we all should be doing is keeping the victims, their families, and metro employees uplifted in prayer.

Most of us in the DC area are always in a hurry. In the scheme of things, this was only a minor inconvenience for some.

How would you feel if your loved one went to work and did not come home?

We have to keep our priorities together.


Posted by: cflsjd | June 23, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Re: priorities

Yes, we get it, but it's NOT callous to have a serious discussion about the failure of communication (again). Unless Metro (finally) gets its act together, you'll be praying for a lot more of us when there's an attack or evacuation and the lack of communication results in even greater casualties, mass panic, etc.

Posted by: Janine1 | June 23, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Officials are finding clues and victims in Mondays train crash in Washington DC. Amazing multimedia posted too.

Posted by: InformationDesk | June 23, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

My main problem with Metro (and there are MANY) is the lack of communication. As the saying goes, one hand does not know what the other is doing.

My other problem? Lack of cell service underground. Maybe now Metro will allow AT&T customers to once again get a signal underground? Just think of all of the frantic relatives who couldn't reach their loved ones because they were at one of the underground stations?

With all that said, I have another complaint/ thing to add: when I got to Rockville Metro (because getting to Glenmont would be dang near impossible) I caught the #49 Ride-On bus. We were not charged for the trip if we got on at the station.

Metro still charged a fare. WHY!!!????

And Metro wonders why people don't like them?

Posted by: kinseyjames | June 23, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

AHA! I know why WMATA does not redirect passengers once they know there is going to be a large wait, instead letting them funnel into packed stations: METRO GETS PAID WHEN PEOPLE ENTER THE STATIONS. To discourage people from going down and through the turnstiles is to give up hard to come by money. Scaring everyone off the system, even temporarily, would cost WMATA a lot of dough. So they avoid it.

When I read comments like this, WMATA's decisions all make sense in light of my AHA! above: "Everyone else in the city just wanted to know basics - for Pete's sake, there's a huge difference in "holding" delays, and if you just told people "major accident," that almost guarantees riders will make other plans to get around."

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | June 23, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I was on a North Bound redline train that stopped at Rhode Island ave station. We were provided information by the driver that there was an emergency situation between Ft Totten and Takoma. He also stated that he did not know how long we would be delayed. We were the 1st train to be stopped at the station and eventually, people either left or waited for the shuttle buses.

MEtro could have done a much better job of informing the riders of the situation, but I suppose their efforts wer concentrated on the actual accident itself.

Where Metro has issues, I would like to commend the EMTs, Firefighters, and police for the work they did.

Hopefully, Metro can learn from this tragedy, and improve safety as well as communications for the system.

Posted by: jjrone | June 23, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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