WMATA Apologizes to Riders for Tunnel Incident

Radio Communication "Nonexistent" for Rescuers During Fatal Metro Smoke Incident

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is apologizing to all Metro riders and the family of a woman killed Monday after smoke filled a Yellow Line tunnel outside L’Enfant Plaza.

The apology, in the form of a letter, will appear in the Washington Post’s Sunday edition as an advertisement. In it, WMATA Chairman Tom Downs said the organization wants to learn from the incident to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“Recognizing that our riders depend upon the region’s emergency responders, we have been steadfast in participating in drill with other agencies,” Downs wrote. “Your safety, and your trust in Metro to deliver safe and reliable service, is paramount to us.”

Announcement of the ad comes the same day as a report from the mayor’s office highlighted the communication problems responders had in trying to rescue passengers stuck in train cars in the smoky tunnel.

A Fire and Emergency Medical Services responder who was one of the first to reach a train full of frightened passengers in a smoke-filled D.C. Metro tunnel on Monday said radio communication between emergency personnel was “nonexistent.”

One woman was killed and more than 80 people were hospitalized after acrid smoke filled the tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza metro station during rush hour Monday afternoon.

The report from the Mayor’s office, released early Saturday, provides a few new additional details about the incident, which is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency is also conducting a full investigation of the incident.

In the mayor's report, fire and rescue personnel said they couldn’t communicate with each other while in the tunnels on their usual radio channels. The report said radio communications were “ineffective or sporadic.”

One rescuer, in an email to his chief, said “radio communication was nonexistent in the tunnel.”

The report gives a little more information about why it took so long to reach passengers on the stuck train. Friday, the NTSB said power was still flowing to the high-voltage third rail for more than 30 minutes after the first smoke was reported.

In the mayor's report, rescuers described wanting to make sure that power was off -- and also reported that they were concerned by the sound of trains on nearby tracks. Those trains were apparently on the Blue and Orange lines, the report says.

The incident began Monday at about 3:06 p.m., when an electrical breaker tripped at one end of a section of the third rail near the L'Enfant Plaza station.

About 3:15 p.m. Monday, a Virginia-bound Yellow Line train left the southeast D.C. station -- one of the system's busiest -- but stopped 386 feet after the platform because of electrical arcing of the high-voltage third rail about 1,100 feet beyond the train.

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At 3:25 p.m., a following train stopped 100 feet short of the south end of the platform.

The tunnel and the trains filled with thick black smoke; riders in the train furthest from the platform have said they were trapped in the tunnel for at least 30 minutes before they were rescued.

Jonathan Rogers recorded video and took photos of the incident with his phone, and according to the time stamps on his phone, the first plumes of smoke entered the train at 3:20 p.m. Rogers reported first seeing a firefighter enter the train at 4:20 p.m.

One passenger, 61-year-old Carol Inman Glover, had slumped to the floor unconscious near the front of the train, where the smoke was heaviest. Rogers said he and two other passengers tried for 20 minutes to revive her with chest compression and mouth-to-mouth. A man scooped Glover up in his arms and carried her through the cars toward the back of the train, Rogers said.

First-responding firefighters saw no civilians in the station, according to the mayor's report, but four Metro Transit Police officers at the tunnel directed them to the stopped train carrying passengers in the tunnel. The crew told the officers power needed to be cut off, and the firefighters continued into the tunnel after an officer on a phone said it was.

In the tunnel, the firefighters couldn’t see the train’s taillights until they were right next to the rear of the train, the report says. The last car of the train was just as thick with smoke as the tunnel.

The firefighters asked passengers to open the door, but they couldn’t. The door was opened from outside with a Metro barrel key.

Rescuers in the mayor's report described the evacuation of the frightened passengers as calm. Glover was carried out of the tunnel, where rescuers began CPR.

Glover was taken to the hospital, but she died; the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Glover's death accidental by acute respiratory failure from smoke exposure.

Eighty-six other people were hospitalized, two in critical condition. More than 200 people were evaluated.

Smoke and fire occur, on average, almost twice per week on the aging subway system, which opened in 1976 and still uses some original rail cars. Metro's most recent quarterly safety report showed 86 incidents of smoke or fire in 2013 and 85 such incidents through the first eight months of 2014.

Several Metro passengers injured Monday announced Thursday the filing of a lawsuit against the transit agency for negligence.

L'Enfant Metro Evacuated Over Smoke

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