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Train derails at East Falls Church Metro; Orange and Silver Line impacted through weekend

Train derails at East Falls Church Metro, Friday, July 29, 2016. (ABC7 photo)

A portion of Metrorail’s Orange and Silver lines will remain closed through at least Sunday morning due to a train derailment.

Around 6:15 a.m. Friday, a six-car Silver Line train heading towards the Wiehle-Reston East Station derailed while changing tracks near the East Falls Church Station. Cars four and five bore the brunt of the damage, partially tilting, but remaining upright.

Roughly 75 passengers were evacuated from the train. Two passengers were evaluated for injuries; one sustained a minor head wound because he was asleep at the time of the derailment.

Arlington County police and firefighters guided passengers down a metal ladder placed against the front door of the lead train car. The passengers then walked along the rocky train bed – roughly 120 feet – to the East Falls Church platform. Per WMATA protocol, the electrified third rail had been deactivated prior to the controlled evacuation.

At 8 a.m., and then again at 4 p.m. Friday, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld addressed the media in front of the Metro Transit Police Department’s oversized mobile command unit.

“Like everyone else, we’re frustrated; we want this thing fixed as quickly as we can,” Wiedefeld remarked while sporting a hard hat and yellow reflective safety vest.

Upon WMATA’s request, a New Jersey man is on-site conducting an independent investigation. According to Wiedefeld, the gentleman is well-known for his meticulous work analyzing more than 150 train derailments since the 1970's. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are also assisting in the ongoing investigation.

“We wanted to make sure we had the best experts in the country look at it, and that’s what we got,” Wiedefeld remarked. “We’re going to find out what the cause was and we are going to fix it.”

Wiedefeld refused to speculate as to what caused the switcher snaggle but stated his crews would go from “A-to-Z” in their review, which includes taking measurements and photos of the scene. Among the list of items to consider--human error, faulty track equipment, Thursday’s heavy rainfall, and oppressive heat.

Around 5 p.m. Friday, a white industrial crane began to remove the damaged train cars from the track; an arduous process as each car is 75-feet-long and weighs 80,000 pounds. WMATA won’t be certain about the extent of the damage to the track, electrified rail and switcher until the train is completely removed.

Despite the significant drain on manpower, Wiedefeld appeared optimistic that the derailment would not hamper SafeTrack Phase Six, which is scheduled to begin Monday.

“I’ll tell you, this does reinforce that we have to continue this constant effort to maintain this system and get it back to the level we all were at,” Wiedefeld added.

WMATA will assess the progress it’s made Saturday before officially determining whether-or-not it’s feasible to re-open the Orange and Silver lines by Sunday morning.

In the interim, customers traveling to or from stations west of Ballston are encouraged to use alternate travel modes if possible. Metro will continue to provide free shuttle buses between Ballston, West Falls Church and McLean stations until rail service is restored. Metro will provide updates directly to customers via Metroalerts email and text.

“We’re going to do this right. I realize that will take some time. I understand that. I’d love to get it up, but safety has to trump service, and this is where it starts,” Wiedefeld concluded.

Friday afternoon, Metro said that an impact on Orange and Silver Line service will continue through the weekend as the investigation continues:

Metro is advising Orange and Silver line riders that train service between West Falls Church/McLean and Ballston stations will remain suspended at least through the end of the day Saturday to allow for further investigation, removal of derailed cars, and repairs to infrastructure that was damaged during the incident.

Customers traveling to or from stations west of Ballston are encouraged to use alternate travel modes if possible. Metro will continue to provide free shuttle buses between Ballston, East Falls Church, West Falls Church and McLean stations until rail service is restored. Metro will provide updates directly to customers via MetroAlerts email and text messages.

As of 11 p.m. the independent rail expert was still searching for the cause of the derailment, but all six rail cars had removed and put back in the yard.

We will update this story as soon as details become available.

ABC7's Brianne Carter's earlier report can be viewed below.

The following is the latest information from WMATA's website, updated on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. :

Silver Line
Silver Line trains will operate in two segments: between Wiehle-Reston East and McLean, and between Ballston and Largo Town Center
Free shuttle buses will provide service between McLean and Ballston stations.
Orange Line
Orange Line trains will operate in two segments: between Vienna and West Falls Church, and between Ballston and New Carrollton
Free shuttle buses will provide service between West Falls Church and Ballston.

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