Thursday, June 25, 2009


People came from around the city. A constant stream of them passed by, many pulling over and getting out to look. People with cameras, people with flowers, people with memories, and people with concerns. Perhaps they came to gawk, perhaps to remember, to pay respect. Perhaps they were just passing by and stopped to see what the commotion was about. But stop they did. Slowed by the constant ingress and egress of vehicles, with pedestrians darting across the four lanes, and news crews taking up the sidewalks, New Hampshire Avenue was moving slowly across the Langley Bridge.

Here, New Hampshire Avenue is high above the city. Higher even than the old B&O Railroad grade, now home to Metro, MARC, and CSX. The bridge is new, recently replaced by DDOT. It's non-descript, but it will be forever etched in our minds not for its architecture, but for its location. 

On my usual commute, there was little to notice about New Hampshire Avenue. It was a marker for me. Fort Totten would be coming up. The bridge tells me to fold my newspaper, to get ready to move toward the door. 

What the passengers of Train 112 thought about the New Hampshire Avenue Bridge as they approached is probably lost for all time. The events of the next few seconds would overpower idle thinking. Unbeknownst to the passengers aboard the speeding train, Train 214 was stopped just south of the bridge, around a slight curve, to await a train servicing Fort Totten. 

Looking North toward Silver Spring

The collision brought residents from blocks away. Car 1079 sprawled on top of the rear of Train 214. Seats were scattered about, panicked passengers trapped inside. 

That was Monday. When I walked through the neighborhood that evening, fire trucks and ambulances, police tape and spectators kept me far back. Traffic was being diverted off of New Hampshire, and trains were delayed. 


After work today, I took the shuttle from Silver Spring to Fort Totten. Realizing how close I was to the scene once more, I decided to walk up and take a look. I was surprised at how many people were stopping. The shoulders on both sides of the bridge were full of cars. Flowers and balloons had been left along the railing. 

Below the tracks sat empty. The 12 cars of Train 214 and 112 were gone, but track inspectors in fluorescent green vests were down below. Some workers were replacing the fence separating the Metro and MARC/CSX tracks. 

Looking South toward Fort Totten, some 3rd rail is missing

As I paused to reflect on the scene below, a MARC train bound for the Potomac River Valley came into view. It sounded its horn and crept slowly through the site with its bell ringing constantly. 

I'm glad I wasn't aboard 112. I travel over this stretch of track twice daily. I've traveled from Silver Spring toward downtown during the timeframe that 112 and 214 travel, although with trains every two minutes, I may never know if I've been on either of those trains. But I'll certainly have something to think about when next I ride the Red Line under New Hampshire Avenue. 

1 comment:

Christopher Parker said...

If you were on train 112 you'd probably have been just fine. Remember there were perhaps 1,000 people on board? 75 got injured and some deaths.

Never forget that the safety odds on rails are much much better than on roads. If you where in a car that smashed into another with other cars behind it smashing into it shoving it forward, you'd be dead. On the metro, only a portion, perhaps 1% died. (Not that you'd want to be that portion or have one be a loved one)