An accident triggered by a fire and explosion in a subway tunnel along Metro’s busy Red Line near Union Station killed one man and seriously injured two transit agency workers, disrupting elaborate maintenance and rebuilding plans on the system.
In a carefully orchestrated shutdown that started at 10 p.m. Friday, Metro had turned off the power on the tracks, closed a busy Red Line stretch from Farragut North to Union Station and brought in about 100 Metro workers and contractors to do maintenance with a dozen different pieces of equipment on the tracks.
But early Sunday morning, things went drastically wrong.
About 400 feet from the Union Station platform, in the direction of Glenmont, flames erupted and a “loud noise” boomed in the underground tunnel near a piece of equipment on the tracks, according to Metro. It was reported as an explosion by some people on the tracks.
Initially, Metro officials said they thought that leaking hydraulic fluid from an underground vehicle apparently was ignited by welding equipment, causing the explosion and fire. That somehow caused a long and heavy piece of iron rail to move and strike the three workers, who were about 80 feet away. They were part of a crew that was ripping out old sections of rail along the closed section of track and putting in new ones.
One Metro worker who was on the mezzanine level of the then-closed Union Station when the incident happened said another worker came toward him.
“He was running, and he said: “ ‘Hey, everybody, get out. This thing might blow up in the tunnel,’ ” the worker recalled Sunday. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the accident.
Workers in the tunnel put out the fire with an extinguisher before D.C. fire personnel arrived, according to workers on the scene and Metro officials.
Metro said it “is not yet known what caused” the 40-foot-long piece of rail to fall.
Officials identified the contractor who was killed as Harold Ingram, 41, of Virginia. He died “as a result of being struck by the piece of rail,” according to Metro.
Ingram worked for the Holland Co., a Crete, Ill., firm that is under contract to do welding services for Metro. The identities of the two injured Metro workers were not released. One is a supervisor, and the other is a track worker. They suffered serious injuries that were not life-threatening and are being treated at hospitals, according to Metro.
No passengers were injured.
At one point Sunday, Metro considered opening the closed-off portion of the rail system to passengers. After the maintenance shutdown had begun late Friday, passengers had been boarding free shuttle buses at Union Station and Dupont Circle, which took them through downtown and around the closed-off tracks, before getting back on the rail line to their destination. Nearly a quarter of Metro’s riders who use the rail system on weekends were affected by the closings.
But Metro officials ultimately decided against reopening the Red Line early, focusing instead on putting the rail back as crews also worked underground to get equipment off the tracks and prepare for a 5 a.m. opening Monday.