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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -- A long, sharp piece of sheet metal gashed or tripped five Metro riders on an escalatorTuesday morning, sending three to the hospital, and re-opening a simmering debate about whether the transit agency is doing enough to keep its many escalators safe.

Metro says the woman was dragging her bag along the side of the escalator, that it caught in a crack, and that she pulled the side panel loose.

But at least one witness says the metal was already hanging out over the escalator steps, tripping and cutting the woman, and hurting four more people who were propelled into it.

Here's Rachel Frankel's account from an email to wusa9.com: "I was there and someone's clothes did NOT get caught in the escalator. I went down the escalator just prior to the woman who was tripped. The siding was already off and banging against the stairs. That metal siding hit the woman in her leg and tripped her. Notably, the large piece of metal actually reached over to the middle escalator as well, but after the escalators were stopped, some customers pushed it back onto the first escalator so that the middle escalator could still be used."

A transit worker mopped up the blood left behind after the sharp, nasty piece of side panel sprang all the way across the escalator steps -- gashing five people... three of them badly enough that medics rushed them to the hospital.

Metro Transit Police snapped pictures as the transit agency tried to figure out what went wrong.

One escalator expert suggested to the blog UNsuckDCMetro that someone must have forgotten to screw down the panel ... and said there shouldn't be gaps in the metal in the first place that could snag bags or clothing.

Two years ago, worn and oily brakes sent a heavily loaded escalator at L Enfant crashing toward the platform -- before an emergency system kicked in, bringing it to a sudden, tumbling stop, and injuring a dozen people. "Pile of bodies," said one man who was caught in it."Lots of screaming, people running around."

Metro's spending $150 million over the course of years to repair it's failing escalators.

Metro's deep underground design has left it dependent on it's 588 moving stairs -- It has more than any other system outside Moscow.

Since 1985, the escalators have claimed five lives: including three year old Melissa Gilbert in 1995, Darryl Jackson in 1997, and Glenda Weeks, a mother of three, on Thanksgiving Day in 1998.

Written and Reported by Bruce Leshan
9News Now & wusa9.com
Twitter: @BruceLeshan

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