DC Metro smoke incident

DC Metro Train Station Smoke Incident

January 12, 2015 — Washington, D.C. — One passenger aboard a metro train was killed and over 84 other people were injured on Monday afternoon when smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza station, one of the busiest stops in Washington D.C. Authorities say the woman who was killed, as well as many of those who were injured, were aboard a six-car Yellow Line train bound for Virginia.

‘People were freaking out’ –
Alec Dubois, witness to Monday’s rail incident at L’Enfant Plaza metro station in Washington.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., the train came to a sudden stop roughly 800 yards away from the train platform. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board said the smoke likely developed as a result of an “electrical arcing event” which can occur when water hits trackside power cables (electrified third rail). Why the train came to such a sudden stop remains a mystery.

As smoke filled the train cars, passengers were forced to self-evacuate. Those aboard told the media that it took emergency responders roughly an hour to get them off the train, a claim disputed by DC Interim Fire Chief Eugene Jones. Regardless, many reported that they had to struggle to breathe while others lost consciousness. A longtime metro rider said she was “disturbed” that evacuation instructions were not delivered, and that metro personnel were giving no indication as to what was happening.

According to Fox News, 84 people were hospitalized and one passenger was killed as a result of the incident. Medstar Washington Hospital Center reported that seven people remained in their care as of Monday night, including one person listed in critical condition and another in serious condition. George Washington University Hospital reportedly treated 34 patients whose conditions varied.

The smoke was thick enough that service on other lines was temporarily suspended. The Green and Yellow lines, which both make stops at L’Enfant Plaza suspended service, and the Orange, Silver and Blue lines diverted trains from the stop until Monday night.

NTSB Issues Report on the Washington DC Subway Train Smoke Incident

On Jan. 16, 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report on the Jan. 12, 2015 Washington DC metro smoke incident. At roughly 3:15 p.m. local time, a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Yellow Line train with six cars was forced to stop after heavy smoke accumulated in the tunnel connecting L’Enfant Plaza Station and the Potomac River Bridge. The Yellow Line and L’Enfant station are among the WMATA system’s busiest.

When the train came to a stop, the last car was roughly 386 feet from the end of the L’Enfant station platform. Roughly 10 minutes later, a second WMATA train approaching the L’Enfant station was also forced to stop due to the smoke buildup. The second train stopped about 100 feet away from the platform.

A total of 86 people aboard the smokey train were taken to area hospitals for treatment. One passenger, identified as 61-year-old Carol I. Glover, was rushed to George Washington University Hospital where she was later pronounced dead at 4:49 p.m.

NTSB investigators have thus far found severe arcing damage to the third rail and electrical cables. Arcing can occur when electricity from the third rail comes into contact with another substance that it’s not supposed to connect with. According to Michael Flanigon, an NTSB investigator, an arc can “feed on itself” and create more conductive gases.

Perhaps the most damaging issue raised by the NTSB report is that the arcing third rail continued to receive power more than 30 minutes after reports of smoke had been made, implying that city officials took some time remedying the issue. The other key point raised by the report is that emergency responders weren’t told whether or not they could be electrocuted by the third rail. As a result, they were forced to stay on the platform for some time, unable to get to those who needed assistance.

The NTSB report included a timeline of events surrounding the DC metro smoke incident but did not address the city’s emergency response. Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters on Thursday that a city report will be issued within the next 48 hours.

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