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NTSB Report Gives Possible Cause of Metro Smoke Incident

d.c. metro

The National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) has released a 10-page document in its ongoing investigation into the causes of an electrical malfunction that filled a Metro tunnel with smoke on January 12, 2015 leaving one dead and dozens injured.

Although the NTSB continues its investigation into the causes of the Metro accident that occurred near L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, the newly-released document “implicitly criticized Metro last week for failing to ensure that all power-cable connections near its subway tracks are protected from contaminants.” As reported by the Washington Post, experts have commented that contaminants could cause electrical issues, such as the one that occurred on the Metro in January.

The NTSB report documented that many power-cable connections lack “sealing sleeves.” The purpose of the sealing sleeves is to keep water, grime, dust and other substances away from the electrical current. As the Washington Post reports, “improperly constructed power-cable connector assemblies…can lead to short circuits that can generate fire and smoke in tunnels.” The NTSB document “cites circumstantial evidence that the cable connector assemblies at ground zero of the L’Enfant incident lacked sealing sleeves.”

As the NTSB investigation continues, Metro officials are not commenting on the accident or Metro conditions, citing federal rules preventing them from commenting due to the ongoing investigation. The NTSB issued a statement referring to the incident as an “electrical arcing event involving the trackside power cables (the third rail).”

About the Metro Incident

In the afternoon on January 12, a Virginia-bound Yellow Line train stopped in the tunnel just south of the L’Enfant Metro station. It is reported that it stopped due to sparks occurring about 1,100 feet in front of the train. The tunnel filled with a thick, black smoke, trapping passengers aboard the train. One woman passed away due to the incident. Approximately 84 passengers were taken to area hospitals following the incident.

The trapped passengers eventually evacuated through the Metro tunnel. Passengers involved in the incident reported that they had to walk through the tunnel with no electricity and no visibility. Other passengers reported that people were passing out due to the smoke while they remained trapped in the train’s cars.

In February, the NTSB released a statement that Metro’s poor operation of ventilation fans in and near the L’Enfant Plaza station during the January 12 smoke incident caused “a mass of noxious fumes to move hundreds of feet toward a train in a tunnel and then linger around it…” The federal investigators revealed that Metro controllers, 11 miles from the scene, activated two sets of giant fans at cross-purposes. The two sets of fans, operating at opposite ends of the train, pulled the smoke instead of one set pushing while the other pulled, the NTSB reported. This caused the fumes to settle over the stopped train. The statements released by the NTSB also noted that the Metro “does not have a means to determine the exact location of a source of smoke in their tunnel network.” In addition, two of the six fans involved in the failed ventilation effort did not even work. In addition to the failure of the fan ventilation system, the failure of turning off the train during the emergency caused even further problems. During the emergency, “the train ventilation system that draws air from the outside into the cars was not shut off by the train operator.” As reported by the Washington Post, the smoke permeated the cars of the train because it was pulled in by the train’s heating, ventilation and air-condition system.

Ashcraft & Gerel is currently helping several victims of this tragedy seek the justice they deserve.