A married pair of train cars pulled apart from each other on the Silver Line on Saturday. Image by Valerie Bowles used with permission.

A Silver Line train experienced a “pull apart” Saturday morning, August 25 after leaving the McLean rail station headed inbound to Foggy Bottom. The trailing three cars on the train separated from the lead five, causing the train to become disabled and leading to hours of single-tracking as Metro employees worked to move the train to a rail yard.

This appears to be the first-ever known married pair to pull apart in the Metrorail system. Two married pairs on a Red Line train separated outside of Twinbrook back in 2016, and a Green Line train separated outside Navy Yard earlier that same year. Both incidents occurred between married pairs where the rail cars are meant to couple and decouple from each other, unlike this most recent event.

Shortly after departing the McLean station on the Silver Line at around 10:40 am, the operator reported to the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) that the train had “dumped,” meaning that the brakes were activated and that the train wouldn’t move. The console of the train showed that there were only four cars attached, not the eight that there should have been, according to Metrorail radio transmissions.

The operator reported an “undesired uncoupling” and large gap between the fifth and sixth cars in the train (cars 6038 and 6039) as they performed an initial inspection looking for the issue. The gap had formed in between two semi-permanently coupled railcars, otherwise known as a “married pair.”

In a statement from Metro, Spokesperson Sherri Ly says on “Saturday at approximately 10:45 a.m. the sixth car of an eight-car, 6000-series Silver Line train detached from the train’s fifth car in the area of McLean. The train's braking system immediately egnaged, as designed, and brought all cars to a safe stop. Approximately 70 passengers aboard were transferred to another train to continue their trip. There were no injuries. The FTA was notified, and Metro is investigating to determine the root cause. In addition, all 6000-series railcars and 5000-series railcars have undergone inspections to prevent a recurrence.

Video snippet of the Silver Line train pull apart on the aerial structure outside the McLean station. Image from video by the author.

When Metro trains go into service, they consist of either three or four married pairs to make a train that’s either six or eight cars long. Married pairs, also sometimes referred to as ‘deuces,’ rarely if ever are separated and act as a single unit, so it's highly unusual that they separate on their own. Married pairs share electrical equipment between the two cars which help control systems such as the cars’ heating and air conditioning. Purposefully separating them is a lengthy process that’s typically only performed in a rail yard.

No injuries were reported during the pull apart on Saturday, and all passengers were off the train within an hour. Metro sent two rescue trains to get passengers back to a rail station. The pull apart gap was large enough that the train operator advised the ROCC it wouldn’t be safe to have anybody try to step across so that only one recovery train was needed. One approached the disabled train from the McLean end and one arrived from the downtown/Arlington end.

In order to move the train, the two cars in the bad married pair were fully separated from each other. All electronics, hoses, and the semipermanent coupler itself were disconnected to allow both halves of the train to be moved to the nearest rail yard, West Falls Church.

Separating the decoupled married pair and moving them to the yard resulted in two very unique train configurations. The first five cars on the train were able to be moved to the rail yard on their own with an odd number of rail cars. The last three, however, were joined to an eight-car recovery train, resulting in a train which was 11 cars long.

Metro personnel were able to begin removing the last three cars of the train by around 4:30 pm, nearly six hours after the beginning of the incident. Safety department officials were notified and on scene to monitor and observe the removal of the train.

Metro Reasons is a regular breaking news, investigative reporting, and analysis column by Stephen Repetski about everything Metro. Please send tips to Metro Reasons.


Allison Davis is this month’s sponsor for posts about Transit. Learn more »

Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.