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Rail News: Passenger Rail

WMATA adjusts safety procedures


Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority continues to adjust procedures in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the changing transit landscape that’s ensued.

In an Oct. 9 altercation, WMATA Transit Police officers stopped and tried to subdue with pepper spray an individual who was behaving suspiciously when several items fell from his pockets, including a 12-inch steak knife and a red plastic spray bottle. While being handcuffed, the man reached behind his back, retrieved a small hand gun and fired, narrowly missing one of the officers. An officer grabbed the gun and the suspect was taken into custody. The rail car in which he was riding proceeded to the next station.

A short while later, personnel involved in the altercation began to experience respiratory difficulties, which they believed might be related to the red spray bottle. WMATA officials notified the local fire department of a possible hazardous materials situation and stopped the train, and locked down and isolated the rail car until it could be evaluated.

The symptoms were determined to be the result of the pepper spray and not the liquid in the spray bottle, which turned out to be carpet cleaner.

Three days later, WMATA safety, transit police and rail personnel met with officials from local fire departments to review existing haz-mat procedures. The resulting interim Standard Operating Procedures were distributed Oct. 23 to all Metrorail and Metrobus personnel via Special Orders.

Most of the changes focus on how personnel in the Rail Operations Control Center will coordinate train movement in the event of a suspected or confirmed haz-mat incident on a train, along tracks or in a station.

If an incident would occur on an underground train, rail supervisors now will stop the train, shut down the ventilation system, evacuate the next-closed Metrorail station, bring the affected train slowly into the station, offload passengers and have fire department haz-mat personnel conduct a full assessment at the station. Above-ground trains will be stopped and assessed at the place where the hazardous substance is first discovered, or at the next station if that station also is above ground.

If a substance is discovered or reported on a station platform, trains will continue to the next station while the material is investigated. If officials believe the substance is hazardous, the stations will be evacuated and closed; no trains will enter or leave the station until the substance has been fully evaluated.

"When confronted with a situation, safety concerns always take precedent over anything else," said Fred Goodine, WMATA’s chief safety officer, in a prepared statement. "At the same time, we must act responsibly and always be cognizant of how the actions we take will impact our system and our customers."

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More News from 10/24/2001