City Desk

Today in D.C. History: Red Line Crash Kills 9 Near Fort Totten

On June 22, 2009, the deadliest crash in Metrorail's history occurred when two Red Line trains collided near the Fort Totten station, killing nine people and injuring dozens more.

The accident, and a subsequent National Transportation Safety Board investigation, offered a harsh assessment of Metro’s lax safety maintenance. That Monday just before 5 p.m., at the height of rush hour, a downtown-bound Red Line train leaving the Takoma station stopped temporarily on the tracks near the New Hampshire Avenue NE overpass. A second train, headed in the same direction, rammed into the rear of the stationary train at 55 mph, causing the last car of that train to break apart on impact.

(For a slideshow of photos of the accident and its aftermath, click here.)

Olga Bryant, a Walter Reed Army Medical Center employee, was a passenger on the first train. She told Washington City Paper at the scene that it had been stopped for about 10 minutes before the crash. For those who ride Metro long enough, such delays become routine. Brenda Payton, who was on the speeding train, told City Paper: "We just felt a big crunch and saw smoke and stuff. We got off the train as fast as we could." Fellow passenger Anastasia McKeown said: “You could tell we hit something that wasn't an animal." Crews had to cut some passengers out of the mangled cars and propped up steel ladders to help others escape the wreckage. (For a photo gallery of the emergency response, click here.)

Then-Mayor Adrian Fenty spoke at a press conference on June 23, confirming nine dead and 76 injured. “We want to express our condolences ... our hearts go out to the many loved ones,” Fenty said. “We are cooperating fully with WMATA. They will then cooperate fully with the NTSB."

Among the fatalities was train operator Jeanice McMillan, 42. Speculation grew in the aftermath of the crash that McMillan had been texting when the trains collided. WTOP confirmed with then-Metro General Manager John Catoe that the rumors were untrue. "We know where her cell phone was—it was not on her. It was in a backpack ... There's not one letter of evidence that our operator did anything to cause the accident,” Catoe said. He added that the train had braked for several hundred feet before the crash.

Among the eight other fatalities were LaVonda King, 23, owner of a new hair salon; Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr., 62, a command pilot; and Veronica DuBose, 29, a nursing student.

The NTSB’s investigation into the June 2009 accident determined that the automatic train-control system had failed to detect the delayed train, The Washington Post reported.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman told the Post that D.C.’s Metrorail—the second-busiest in the country with about 200 million passenger trips a year—had “significant deficiencies in their safety culture.”

Hersman also accused Metro of ignoring the NTSB’s warnings—the most significant of which regarding its potentially malfunctioning track circuits and oldest cars dating back to the 1970s—for 15 years before the crash, according to the Associated Press. The NTSB made a series of new recommendations to Metro after the accident.

The previous most-deadliest crash in Metro’s history occurred in 1982, when an Orange Line train derailed near the Federal Triangle station due to an improperly aligned switch, killing three passengers.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery. For more of Montgomery's photos click here.

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