Image: Metro station
Nick Wass  /  AP
Emergency tape blocks an entrance to the Mount Vernon Square station, near where a subway train derailed Sunday.
updated 1/7/2007 10:07:52 PM ET 2007-01-08T03:07:52

A subway train derailed Sunday near downtown Washington, sending 20 people to the hospital and prompting the rescue of 60 people from a tunnel, officials said.

The accident happened at about 3:45 p.m. near the underground Mount Vernon Square station, which serves two lines beneath the Washington Convention Center, Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said. There were about 150 people on the train.

At least one person had a serious but not life-threatening injury, Asato said. The other injuries were mostly “bumps and bruises,” and one of those with minor injuries was pregnant.

Part of the six-car train had pulled into the station when the fifth car left the track and hit the tunnel wall, Asato said. All the cars remained upright.

Glass and metal were strewn through the tunnel, and the fifth car had significant damage, said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. The concrete tunnel wall also appeared to be damaged, but it was unclear how significant the wall damage was or whether the track was damaged.

About 60 people in the last two cars had to wait about 45 minutes for firefighters to reach them and escort them through the tunnel on a catwalk.

Passengers in the first four cars were able to exit on their own through the front two cars, which were already at the station platform, Asato said.

There was no fire, Asato said. An investigation was under way.

Witnesses said people started to panic when the six-car train began shaking, and some passengers began running to the back of the train.

“I was in a cab that actually shattered — the front part of it — those windows in between the two cars,” said rider Lauren Sprigg.

Service on two lines was halted in both directions around the station, and Asato said a shuttle bus would take passengers around the accident scene.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were headed to the scene. Metro officials said they were waiting to move the train and clean up debris until investigators arrived.

“We can’t move anything until NTSB shows,” Farbstein said.

Officials probably wouldn’t know until early Monday whether the station would be able to reopen for the morning rush hour, Farbstein said.

The train operator was undergoing routine drug and alcohol tests, Asato said. The woman had been operating Metro trains since 2000.

In November, two Metro track workers were struck and killed by an out-of-service train in November. An investigation found the train operator failed to follow procedures. Another Metro worker was struck and killed in May.

In 2004, a train rolled backward and hit another, injuring 20 people.

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