DC area lawmakers to discuss fatal Metro incident

DC area lawmakers to discuss fatal Metro incident
© file photo

Lawmakers who represent districts in the metropolitan Washington area on Wednesday are planning to discuss a smoke incident on the region’s Metrorail subway last week that left one passenger dead and more than 80 others injured after they receive a briefing from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). 

The accident investigation agency is scheduled to brief Sens. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE (D-Md.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (D-Va.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Defense & National Security: War ends, but finger pointing continues Harris presides over Senate passage of bill assisting Americans fleeing Afghanistan Senate panel votes to repeal Iraq war authorizations MORE (D-Md.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Va.), along with Del. Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Security forces under pressure to prevent repeat of Jan. 6 Overnight Health Care — Democrats face setback on drug pricing MORE (D-D.C.) and Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Hoyer affirms House will vote Sept. 27 on bipartisan infrastructure bill House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (D-Md.), Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenBottom line Spendthrift Democrats ignore looming bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare Progressive pollster: 65 percent of likely voters would back polluters tax MORE (D-Md.), John SarbanesJohn Peter Spyros SarbanesRep. Bush drives calls for White House action on eviction moratorium lapse Chesapeake Bay's health increases slightly to a C Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (D-Md.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHow lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation Overnight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling Connolly rips Wilson over 'you lie' during Blinken hearing MORE (D-Va.), John DelaneyJohn DelaneyDirect air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy Lobbying world Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis MORE (D-Md.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) on the deadly incident on Metro’s Yellow Line. 

Investigators have said the Yellow Line train was heading toward Northern Virginia on Jan. 12 when an electrical issue halted its progress, trapping passengers underground in smoke-filled cars.

ADVERTISEMENT

The incident resulted in Metro’s first passenger fatality since a high-profile crash on the Red Line in 2009 that killed nine people and led to widespread changes at the capital-area transit agency.

Lawmakers began pressing the agency for answers before the NTSB began its investigation last week. 

"For those who use the Metro system on a daily basis, [last Monday’s] tragic events represent a nightmare situation in which passengers were left in the dark, breathing potentially toxic smoke and fumes, for close to one hour before first responders allowed an evacuation," Warner wrote in a letter to former Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Chairman Richard Sarles, who retired at the end of last week in an exit that was planned long before the Yellow Line incident. 

"While the incident currently is under investigation by a team from the National Transportation Safety Board, the circumstances reported by dozens of passengers and witnesses are disturbing," Warner continued. "I understand that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now beginning a thorough and comprehensive investigation of yesterday’s incident which limits your ability to discuss the events in detail. However, general training and coordination procedures are clearly at issue here, and I therefore request a full briefing as soon as possible."

NTSB officials have attributed the smoke in Metro’s Yellow Line tunnel to an  “electrical arcing incident” that occurred near the agency’s L’Enfant Plaza station, which is a major transfer station that is located near the NTSB’s Washington headquarters.

“On January 12, 2015, about 3:15 p.m. eastern standard time, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail train 302 stopped after encountering an accumulation of heavy smoke while traveling southbound in a tunnel between the L’Enfant Plaza Station and the Potomac River Bridge,” the agency said in its preliminary report. 

“NTSB investigators have inspected the area of the incident, where they observed severe electrical arcing damage to the third rail and electrical cables about 1,100 feet ahead of train 302,” the report continued. “Recorded data shows that at about 3:06 p.m., an electrical breaker at one end of a section of third rail tripped (opened). At about 3:16 p.m. the WMATA Operations Control Center (OCC) began activating ventilation fans in an effort to exhaust smoke from the area. The electrical breaker at the other end of the third rail section remained closed; supplying power until the WMATA OCC remotely sent a command to open the breaker at about 3:50 p.m.” 

Metro and Washington, D.C. officials have been criticized for allowing such a long gap before emergency responders could reach passengers who were stuck on the smoke-filled train. 

The NTSB’s full preliminary report can be read here