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Rescuers attempting to assist passengers stuck on a smoke-filled Metro train on Monday were beset by an inability to communicate by radio—-a problem that fire officials had warned Metro about four days earlier.
According to a report from D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services to Mayor Muriel Bowser this morning, radio communications were “not effective or sporadic” as rescuers attempted to evacuate passengers in an incident that ultimately saw 84 people transported to the hospital and one woman die. FEMS had warned Metro on Jan. 8 that there was no 800 MHz radio coverage anywhere in L’Enfant Plaza station, where the incident occurred.
This report, requested by Bowser, follows a preliminary report issued yesterday by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation of the incident. The NTSB report shows that the heavy smoke in the L’Enfant Plaza station and the nearby Yellow Line tunnel where the train was stuck was likely caused by sparking on the electrified third rail, known as arcing.
The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs Metro, has not issued its own account of the incident and had deferred questions to NTSB. But the revelations in today’s report to Bowser indicate that WMATA had been warned of a problem that ultimately hampered the rescue effort. Metro has also routinely experienced electrical arcing, about twice a month, according to a 2013 report, though usually without consequences.
Today’s report shows that the first FEMS unit arrived at L’Enfant Plaza at 3:31 p.m. on Monday, just nine minutes after the first call reporting heavy smoke in the station. About nine minutes later, a rescue team reached the closest car on the affected train. But it’s not clear how long it took rescuers to reach the last of the passengers on the train, and passengers have complained that they waited more than half an hour in the smoke-filled train.
One passenger, identified as Carol Inman Glover, 61, of Alexandria, died after rescuers evacuated her from the train. According to the report, she still had a pulse as she was carried out of the train, but no longer did when she was brought outside the station.
The report also includes a transcript of frantic 911 calls, in which callers complained of smoke inhalation and urged responders to arrive quickly. There was some confusion about jurisdiction as callers were transferred from one police department to another. One caller, who reported that the train was near Pentagon station (where it was headed after leaving L’Enfant) was transferred from D.C. police to Arlington police to transit police.
The D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency is working on a full report on the incident, which will include information from FEMS, other D.C. agencies, and 911 calls.
Bowser tweeted that she rode Metro to the office this morning, and that “We need metro to be safe and accountable.”
Photo from the NTSB report