One woman died, two others are in critical condition, and more than 80 other passengers were hospitalized after a Metro car became disabled and filled with smoke. The Yellow Line train was departing L’Enfant Plaza for Virginia when it lost power 800 feet south from the platform. Passengers report the Metro car stopped, lost power, then quickly filled with smoke, causing breathing difficulties. Metro riders say they were stuck for approximately one hour in the smoke-filled Metro cars while they waited to be rescued by D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel.
In a press conference late Monday night, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Michael Flanigon said water on the track created an “electric arcing event” that caused smoke to come off from the electrified third rail. The NTSB is unsure why the train came to a halt, but stated there was no fire on the D.C. metro train. A full investigation of the incident, which could take four to six months, is pending.
Metro riders waited for almost an hour in smoke-filled metro cars while D.C. firefighters ensured the electrified third rail of the track was turned off. Meanwhile, Metro passengers were instructed by the train operator to remain onboard and stay low in order to minimize smoke inhalation. Passengers were told not to open the Metro car doors to prevent more smoke from entering the train.
Passengers reported smoke in the Metro cars was so thick they could hardly see around them. Many riders shared water bottles and inhalers with each other. While most remained calm, some passengers became panicked and disoriented. One Metro rider appeared to suffer a seizure and others choked in the haze of smoke that filled the train.
Some passengers self-evacuated, prying open doors and heading towards nearby train platforms. No evacuation plans were announced to the Metro riders stuck inside the smoke-filled cars as they waited for help from emergency responders. Washington, D.C. interim fire chief Eugene Jones told members of the press that firefighters wanted to make sure power to the Metro track was turned off before any emergency personnel entered the tunnel.
One woman died, two are in critical condition after suffering smoke-related injuries. In all, 84 passengers were taken to George Washington University Hospital, Howard University Hospital, and MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Two hundred passengers were evaluated by emergency responders for injuries suffered during the incident.
Doctors reported most of the patients taken in were suffered from smoke inhalation. The level of injury sustained varied but at least three had to be held overnight for evaluation.
Monday’s passenger death on the WMATA D.C. Metro is the first since 2009, when a Red line train headed for Fort Totten collided with another at a dead stop. The impact of the Metro train killed the operator and eight passengers.
The cause of the crash stemmed from electrical short circuits on the train tracks which alert incoming trains to the presence of other train cars in front of them. Five days before the crash, a portion of the track circuit was replaced in the same spot the collision occurred. The idle train was within an area which could not relay its position to the incoming train and was essentially invisible to the control system which monitored train movements.
The Cochran Firm, D.C. represented many of the victims from the Fort Totten, Washington, D.C. train crash and was co-liason counsel for all plaintiffs in the consolidated litigation. The 2009 crash was a train-on-train collision between two trains traveling during rush hour. The tragedy, which left nine dead and 85 injured, was the deadliest crash in the Washington Metro’s history.
In the Fort Totten litigation, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia appointed David Haynes, the managing partner of The Cochran Firm’s Washington, D.C. office, as co-liaison counsel for all of the plaintiffs. (In the Matter of the Fort Totten Metrorail Cases Arising Out of the Events of June 22, 2009, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No.: 10-mc-00314). Haynes was a member of the plaintiff’s steering committee and The Cochran Firm, D.C. represented the largest number of victims in 2009 Fort Totten Metro crash, which resulted in a favorable settlement. During the Fort Totten litigation, David Haynes called for a revamp of WMATA's safety measures, including the removal the 1000 series Metro cars involved in the crash. After the deadly crash and the ensuing litigation, Metro revamped its safety policies.