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Nearly 24 hours after smoke filled a Metro tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza, questions abound about everything from how long the District’s fire department took to reach passengers, including a woman who died, to what caused smoke to fill the station. Don’t expect Muriel Bowser—new mayor and former Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board member—-to clear that up anytime soon. At an afternoon press conference, Bowser deferred to the upcoming investigations from the National Transportation Safety Board and the fire department for most answers about the incident, reportedly caused by an “electrical arcing” malfunction.
“We expect the NTSB’s investigation to really determine what Metro knew and when they knew it,” Bowser said.
Bowser has appointed City Administrator Rashad Young as the District’s point person during the NTSB investigation. A separate D.C. Fire and EMS investigation into whether there was a delay in the fire department response to the train—-passengers reported waiting as long as 45 minutes—-will likely be finished by the end of next week. Bowser said it appeared that D.C. FEMS personnel appeared to have responded to the L’Enfant station in or around a “customary” time, although Bowser spokesman Michael Czin declined to say what response time is “customary” until the report is released.
Bowser also declined to comment on whether she was aware of the system’s smoke problems, which include a 2013 incident near Anacostia, while she was on the Metro board. But the mayor said the system has improved its safety since the NTSB blasted the transit agency after the 2009 Red Line crash killed nine people.
‘”The safety culture has dramatically improved,” Bowser said. “That’s why it’s shocking and so disappointing that we’ve had this failure.”
Interim Fire Chief Eugene A. Jones, who’s facing an uncertain job future in the Bowser administration, refused to offer details on whether the D.C. FEMS response was delayed.
“I can’t go beyond what the mayor said,” Jones said.
WMATA announced this afternoon that, as of 3:30 p.m., 21 train passengers were still hospitalized. The woman who died was identified by WMATA as 61-year-old Carol Inman Glover of Alexandria, Va. The agency plans to move the affected train out of the tunnel tonight.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery