NTSB calls for subway tunnel audit after DC smoke death

NTSB calls for subway tunnel audit after DC smoke death
© Getty Images

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling for a nationwide audit of public transit systems that operate trains in tunnels after a recent fatal smoke incident on the Washington, D.C. Metrorail system. 

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said the D.C. Metro incident, which involved passengers being trapped on a smoke-filled train, shows problems may exist with similar transit systems across the country. 

"Procedures for ventilation of smoke in emergencies can be critical, but they vary across systems, and in some systems are inadequate — as we have found in the present WMATA investigation,” Hart said in a statement. “Although the investigation is ongoing, WMATA should immediately address these issues to prevent any chance of a recurrence, and other systems should be audited for similar problems.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Investigators have said the Jan. 12 DC Metro smoke incident occurred when a Yellow Line train that was heading toward Northern Virginia filled with smoke after an electrical issue halted its progress. One passenger, Alexandria, Va.-resident Carol Glover, died in the incident and more than 80 people were injured. 

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 because there was a long delay before emergency responders could reach passengers who were stuck on the smoke-filled train.

The NTSB said Wednesday that the D.C. Metro incident showed the need for all U.S. transit agencies to detail their “written emergency procedures for fire and smoke events, and training to ensure compliance with these procedures.” 

Lawmakers who represent parts of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where Metro trains operate backed the NTSB’s recommendations. 

“I strongly urge Metro to move immediately to implement the NTSB ventilation recommendations in order to prevent another dangerous smoke event,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOn The Money: US tops 100,000 coronavirus deaths with no end in sight | How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response | Tenants fear mass evictions How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts MORE (D-Va.) said in a statement. 

The agency that operates D.C.’s Metro system, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments said Wednesday that the fire chiefs of all the jurisdictions where Metro trains run have worked together to boost communication in subway tunnels across the capital region. 

“The National Capital Region COG Fire Chiefs are committed to ensuring the safety of the public, our responders and the WMATA employees within the Metro system at all times,” the DC-area Council of Governments said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is imperative that each of us work together to build and maintain a system of operations and response that instills confidence and constantly improves the culture of safety in our response systems,” the inter-jurisdictional group continued. 

Warner said the announcement of increased cooperation between Metro’s jurisdictions is long overdue. 

“Nearly 15 years after 9/11, and after spending millions of dollars on first responder radios and interoperability issues, commuters and visitors to the nation’s capital deserved a more regular, responsible focus in the testing and reporting of deficiencies in the radio systems,” he said. “The commitments made today solidly move us in the right direction, but I will press to make sure Metro follows through on those obligations.”

The NTSB said meanwhile that it sent the recommendations to WMATA, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).