The Jan. 12 Yellow Line incident damaged the electrified third rail near L'Enfant Plaza.
The Jan. 12 Yellow Line incident damaged the electrified third rail near L'Enfant Plaza.

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The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a two-day investigative hearing in June on the Jan. 12 Metro incident that filled a Yellow Line train with smoke, left one passenger dead, and sent 84 to the hospital, the agency announced today.

Ever since the incident, believed to have been caused by sparking on the electrified third rail of a Metro track just south of L’Enfant Plaza, the agencies tasked with ensuring passenger safety have sniped at one another over responsibility for the slow evacuation process. D.C. fire officials claimed they’d informed Metro four days before the incident that radio communications around L’Enfant Plaza were not working. Metro countered that the fire department had encrypted its communications without telling Metro. And other questions remain surrounding Metro’s awareness of the apparent problem that caused the incident, known as electrical arcing.

While city agencies have released preliminary reports on the incident, the NTSB is conducting the authoritative investigation into the matter. The hearing, on June 23 and 24, will explore the following issues:

  • Conditions leading to the arcing
  • Emergency response efforts
  • WMATA’s efforts to improve its overall safety and safety culture (since the Fort Totten accident in June 2009)
  • The state of WMATA’s infrastructure
  • The Federal Transit Administration’s rulemaking on public transportation safety
  • The Tri-State Oversight Committee’s oversight responsibilities

After the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people, it took the NTSB a year to release its report on the incident. Some residents and city officials hoped that this investigation would wrap up more quickly, given the more straightforward nature of the malfunction. But with the agency holding this hearing in June, it appears the investigation will last at least into the summer.

Photo from the NTSB