Lawmakers: Metro smoke fatality ‘unacceptable’

Lawmakers who represent districts in the metropolitan Washington area said Wednesday that a smoke incident on the capital region’s Metrorail subway system that left one passenger dead and 80 others injured was “unacceptable.” 

“It has become clear that communication failures were a key factor in the delay in rescuing passengers from the stopped, smoke-filled train in last week’s Yellow Line incident,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in a statement after receiving an update on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation into the incident. 

{mosads}“And it is also clear that the overall response to the fatal incident is unacceptable,” Connolly continued. “Changes must be made and made quickly. We must restore public confidence in the Metro system and be able to assure hundreds of thousands of daily Metro riders that their safety is the top priority.” 

Connolly was joined by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), John Delaney (D-Md.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) at a press conference about 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.

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.

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. 

Connolly said Wednesday that emergency radios in the Washington, D.C. area was supposed to better equipped to handle situations such as the Metro incident. 

“Since 9/11, the region has invested significantly to improve communications between first responders and other agencies, including Metro, to address this kind of incident, but it appears more must be done,” he said. 

Connolly added during the press conference at the Capitol after the NTSB briefing was completed that Metro was not solely to blame for the mishaps that led to the death of the passenger.

“Metro doesn’t have its own fire and rescue,” he said. “It relies on [local jurisdictions]. We need to understand what happened between DC Fire and Metro because there were numerous communications failures.” 

Mikulski, who is the longest serving lawmaker who represents parts of the metropolitan Washington area, agreed that lawmakers should look at the response to the smoke incident from officials with both Metro and the D.C. fire department. 

Mikulski added that the multi-jurisdictional delegation whose districts include Metro stations will keep pressing for answers about the Jan. 12 smoke incident as the NTSB completes its investigation. 

“We’re not going to let this go,” she said. “We want safety for our passengers. We want people to know when you get on the Metro that you are going to get to your destination, get there on time and get there [safely]…We’re not going to wait for a final report.” 

Metro officials have declined to comment on the accident, citing the NTSB’s investigation, although they participated in Wednesday’s congressional briefing 

NTSB officials, who have attributed the smoke in Metro’s Yellow Line tunnel to an “electrical arcing incident,” are scheduled to speak at the agency’s Board of Directors Safety and Security Committee meeting on Thursday. 

The Jan. 12 incident occurred near the Metro’s L’Enfant Plaza station, which is a major transfer station that is located near the NTSB’s Washington headquarters.

Tags Barbara Mikulski Barbara Mikulski Ben Cardin Ben Cardin Chris Van Hollen Don Beyer Donna Edwards Eleanor Holmes Norton Elijah Cummings Gerry Connolly Gerry Connolly John Delaney Mark Warner Mark Warner Metro smoke incident National Transportation Safety Board Steny Hoyer Tim Kaine Tim Kaine Washington Metro Yellow Line

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