“We need a doctor,” came the yell. Some of the last words you want to hear on Metro; they indicate that somewhere on the train, someone may be suffering or dying — and of more callous concern, that WMATA’s “Sick Customer” policy goes into effect, stopping the train and triggering cascading delays down the line.
It was Wednesday evening, rush hour. I was at Rosslyn, on the Orange Line to Vienna. The operator announced over the train P.A. that he would be leaving the cab to attend to a sick customer, emergency services had been summoned, and that we would be holding at Rosslyn indefinitely. In the second car of the train, an elderly man in a suit had collapsed from what appeared to be a heart attack, and lay on the floor, unmoving, a doctor examining him while another passenger checked his cellphone for emergency contacts.
Outside, the station P.A. announced delays on both tracks of the Orange Line due to a sick customer at Rosslyn, single-tracking in progress. Then, another announcement that the train at Rosslyn was being offloaded — but no such announcement had been made on the train that I was on. Passengers looked around doubtfully. Shortly after, the operator returned to the cab and announced that, yes, “this train will be offloaded, please board the train that is now arriving upstairs.”
As the crowd filed out of the train and up the escalators, EMTs had arrived, intubated the sick customer, raised him on to a gurney, and wheeled him off the train. There was some trouble getting him upstairs as the crowd from the offloaded train had clogged up the nearest upbound platform escalator. Passengers cleared a path, however, and a slightly dazed but blessedly awake patient stared from the gurney back down the escalator at the concerned crowd watching him ascend with the EMTs.
Upstairs, another Vienna-bound Orange Line train had arrived, already crowded. Frantic passengers from the train downstairs crammed in through overflowing doorways, some running to the front and back of the train to try and squeeze into what pockets were left at the doors. I had resigned myself to just waiting for the next train when I heard a familiar train operator’s voice from downstairs:
“This is an Orange Line train to Vienna.”
So WMATA offloaded a train for a sick customer, then the crowd made it troublesome for EMTs to evacuate said sick customer, then there was a mad scramble to get to the train upstairs, and suddenly they were bringing the train back into service just two minutes later, while hordes of offloaded passengers were still crammed onto ascending escalators.
The mad scramble promptly reversed direction while the other Vienna train, stuffed to the gills, departed. There was much grumbling, and I overheard raised voices between an angry passenger and a Metro employee, the latter saying he didn’t make the rules, he just did what they told him.
Soon, the train moved, and I thought of the ways it could have been worse. And then Rosslyn, and another WMATA communications debacle, were behind me.