30° Good Morning
30° Good Morning

At least 9 killed in D.C. Metro train crash

Nine fatalities have been confirmed in the worst accident in the history of Washington's Metro subway system, authorities said Tuesday morning.

The updated casualty count came after rescue workers toiled through the night and into daylight this morning near the D.C.-Maryland line, where a Metro train rear-ended a stopped train during Monday evening's rush hour.

- Click here to see the latest photos from the accident scene

A spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metro, confirmed shortly after 10:30 a.m. that the death toll had reached nine. Among the dead was the operator of the train that crashed into the stopped train. Jeanice McMillan, 42, of Springfield, Va., had been a Metro train operator since 2007. Identities of the remaining victims have not been released.

The victims included seven women and two men, according to Candace Smith, a Metro spokeswoman. Smith said aournd 11:15 a.m. that recovery operations have concluded; five bodies were recovered Monday and four more on Tuesday, she said.

Earlier, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said that two people remain in critical condition at local hospitals. A total of 76 people were treated at local hospitals. A third injured passenger has been upgraded from critical condition, the mayor said at a morning news conference not far from the crash site.

Although the D.C. Fire Department has worked throughout the night, the scene is still being processed as a rescue effort, Fenty said.

A heavy crane was brought in during the night to assist with the rescue operations. The first car of the train that rammed into the stopped train was as much as 75 percent compressed in the accident, according to D.C. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin.

Debbie Hersman, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, said the crash-worthiness of subway train cars has been a concern of the NTSB for some time.

Hersman, recently nominated by President Barack Obama to head the board, said at the news conference that the federal government had made crash-worthiness recommendations to make sure that train operators and passengers are protected as much as possible.

She also said that the WMATA had failed to follow earlier NTSB recommendations to add data recorders to its older model Series 1000 cars. As a result, there would be no information about train speed or whether the brakes had been applied before impact by the operator of the striking train, which was made up of Series 1000 cars.

The six-car train that was hit was made up of newer 3000 and 5000 Series cars. That train was said to have been stopped at the time of the accident, but its nine data recorders might provide information about how far the train moved after it was hit, Hersman said.

She cautioned the public and the news media against drawing any conclusions.

"Let us do our work here," the NTSB official said of the agency's team of nine investigators, who are being assisted by other local, state and federal authorities.

Still unclear is the exact cause of the accident. The stopped train was headed southbound into downtown Washington and was waiting outside the Fort Totten station for the passenger platform to clear. The striking train was on the same track, headed in the same direction.

Hersman said track geometry was one of the things that investigators would be looking at. She said that similar subway cars would likely be brought to the scene eventually to give investigators a better idea of what happened.

"We don't know at this point whether or not the operator [of the striking train] could have seen the train in front of them in order to stop," she said.

The wreckage of both trains is on a curved portion of track in northeast D.C. The accident occurred at the end of a long stretch of straight track, where the track curves toward the west. It is possible that the struck train may have stopped just far enough into the curved section to be out of sight of the train that rammed it.

Other questions that investigators will be looking into revolve around the operation of Metro's automatic navigation system. Computerized sensors are supposed to prevent trains from getting too close to one another.

During rush hour, Metro operates its trains in automatic mode, Hersman confirmed. That means the driver of the train that crashed into the first train would have had to override the automated system in order to prevent the accident, which took place just after 5 p.m. on a clear, sunny day.

The NTSB official said that investigators would be examining the tracks for physical evidence that could suggest whether the operator who was killed tried to slam on the brakes. Investigators have ordered a freeze on all cell phone and text messages while the probe is under way, she said.

That remark was a reminder of other recent accidents caused by inattentive operators. They include the driver of a California train that crashed in 2008, killing 25 people, and the operator of a Boston trolley that injured 20 people in an accident this spring.

Fenty, the Washington mayor, said rescue workers were still pulling apart the wreckage in a search for any further victims. Cadaver dogs had been brought in during the night to look for possible victims, the police chief said.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries in the rescue operation, authorities said. A final update on casualties is expected Tuesday afternoon.

Metro General Manager John Catoe said all subway trains were operating in a manual mode Tuesday and that other safety precautions were being taken.

"We will find out what happened here, what caused this, and put whatever resources that are necessary to fix it so that it won't happen again," Catoe said.

Investigators plan to interview survivors, check train maintenance records and look at Metro's training operations as part of its investigation, according to Hersman.

- Click here to see the latest photos from the accident scene

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.

News Photos and Videos