I walked into Union Station at the usual time, probably about 5:20 pm. I was following a young fellow hobbling along with his crutches in hand. He sensed that he was slowing me down and motioned that I get on the escalator first. With a thank you, I did so.
Upon reaching the second set of escalators, I saw on the signboard that the next train was due in 2 minutes. By the time I reached the front of the station, the train was pulling up. It seemed to me that the train was extremely crowded, and that's when I realized that there had been a delay on the other end of the Red Line. The signboard said that the delay had been resolved, but that both directions were still experiencing delays. I could wait till the next train to see if it were any less crowded, but the sign board didn't have a time for the next train, so I hopped on that one.
The doors closed, and opened again, chiming. Somebody rushed the train door again, no doubt. The doors closed again and we paused as though we were going to pull out of the station. But then the doors opened up and they announced that we would be holding at our current location. They didn't say why at first.
We all stood around for a while, wondering if the previous delay were that bad. Two trains came and went in the other direction. The signboard showed the next trains but there were no times indicated for any of them. They then announced that there was some kind of track problem - I thought I heard them say an electrical outage on the track. They were considering turning all the trains around and establishing shuttle service to Silver Spring. A lot of people got off the train after hearing that. Offhand I wasn't sure how to get home by bus, so I stayed put with the majority of the crowd. I had a nice spot by the door to stand in.
A while later, they announced that we were holding due to an emergency between Fort Totten and Takoma. That caught me. I've heard announcements for "downed trains" and "mechanical difficulties" but they never used the word "emergency." Then they announced that a train had derailed. I immediately thought about the derailment that happened on the JR Line during the time that I was in Japan. That train had been going to fast around a corner and went right into the base of an apartment building. But then, I heard people say that there had been more than one train in the accident and that it had been a collision. And that there had been injuries.
We continued waiting there, though the train engineer announced that she did not know how long we would have to hold. Eventually, she said that we would be moving to the next station. "All aboard - this train is going to New York Avenue."
We got to New York Ave and I sent a text message to my parents. I was surprised that the message got through the chaos on the airwaves. While we sat there, they announced that there would be shuttle service from Rhode Island Avenue station, the next station. I decided to wait on the train for that. About then, my parents called to check on me and just as I hung up, the train started up to RI Ave.
At RI Ave, we all waited to hear the next orders. Everyone stood looking at one another, unsure of what to do. A minute or two later the engineer flashed the cabin lights off and on and told us that the train was out of service and that we could catch a shuttle down below to continue on to Silver Spring. We all got off and headed toward the escalators. I ran into a neighbor of mine from the apartment who I have seen in the mailroom once or twice. We stuck together, wandering around the parking area looking for the shuttles. So did a couple hundred or thousand other people. The police eventually came and blinked their car siren and told us to get out of the street and up onto the curb. The shuttles came one at a time at first, and they were always packed by the time they passed us at the south-middle part of the station. I regretted not having my shortwave receiver or my Yaesu transceiver on me. I really didn't know what to do. Every time a bus pulled up, people would crowd near to see if it was going to Silver Spring. Some buses left empty or with a few people on their normal routes. Some filled up with passengers and went on the emergency shuttle service. I bumped into someone from church, saw a couple small children, two blind folks, and a lot of people my own age. I was surprised by the general attitude of the crowd - most were patiently enduring their impatience with decent humor. One guy said to me, "Well, at least it isn't raining." (Some dark clouds had been passing overhead just before then.)
I probably stood there about two or more hours before they finally got the shuttles organized and got the majority of people on one. They said that the shuttles would only go one stop at a time and that we'd have to transfer buses at each stop - first to Brookland, then another bus to Fort Totten, another from there to Takoma, and then a final one to Silver Spring. By the time I got on the bus, though, most of the people at RI Ave had been picked up and not many wanted off before Silver Spring. Nobody got off at Brookland, only two at Fort Totten, and a handful at Takoma.
I got off the bus at Silver Spring next to the Discovery Channel building at about 15 minutes to 9 pm. I immediately called home to let them know I had made it that far. My legs were very tired from standing and riding the bus for 4 hours. Once I got into the apartment, I called my boss to let him know I was OK, though not yet sure how I would get into work tomorrow. I also called my neighbor who had emailed me to check up. I also posted here and on Facebook to make sure that my flatmate and others would get the word.
I can hardly believe what happened and I just wonder why the train could not stop. All I know is that the stretch where it happened is one of the roughest I ride through to and from work. Many times, I've wondered how the tracks can hold up when we get jostled around so much there. I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but I can't help but think about it.
I am praying that the families who were actually involved in this accident will find comfort and peace in the midst of the tragedy.