Promises to investigate incident

Metro issued an apology for Wednesday's rush-hour meltdown on the Green Line that left thousands of riders trapped in a tunnel on darkened trains for more than an hour and prompted some to walk on the tracks to escape.

"We apologize for the extraordinary delays you experienced last night, and in particular, to those who had such an alarming experience on the two trains that lost power," General Manager Richard Sarles said in a message to riders on Thursday.

In an unusual move, Sarles visited the Navy Yard station to talk to riders and apologize Thursday night, spokesman Dan Stessel said.

Metro promised a thorough investigation and a report to the Metro board's safety committee by Feb. 14.

"It was clearly pretty chaotic and confused," said Metro board member Mort Downey, who is chairman of the safety committee. "Incidents like this do happen and can happen. They're part of the business. We've got to do well with them."

An arcing insulator -- a part of the electrified third rail that was broken and smoking -- brought trains to a halt on the Green Line outside the Anacostia Metro station about 5 p.m. Wednesday.

An emergency responder working for Metro, sensing danger, pushed a button to cut off power to a section of track where two six-car trains were waiting in single-tracking, Stessel said. The packed trains lost power, leaving up to 2,000 riders in the dark.

"It was hot. The windows had begun to fog, and the children began asking their parents [if they] were going to die. A few older passengers were being fanned and some fainted," said Darlene Cunningham, a Howard University senior who said she was on one of the darkened trains.

Cunningham and hundreds of others left the train and walked on the track to the Anacostia station. The "self-evacuation" caused even more delays, Stessel said, as officials cut off power to both tracks so riders would not come into contact with the electrified third rail.

The service cuts snarled thousands more riders, who packed station platforms and the shuttle buses dispatched to take them around the problem. Rider Amin Vafa said it took him two and a half hours to make his normal 30-minute commute from Suitland to Chinatown.