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Rail News: Safety

WMATA orders safety actions after fatal smoke incident


Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Deputy General Manager Rob Troup yesterday ordered 10 safety actions be taken as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues its investigation into last week's fatal smoke event that occurred in a tunnel near L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C.

The actions were developed in collaboration with the NTSB investigation team, but should not be considered formal recommendations from the board, Troup said in a press release.

The NTSB and WMATA are investing the cause of the Jan. 12 incident in which an electrical arching event occurred in front of a train traveling in a tunnel near L'Enfant Plaza. The train stopped, but the event caused the tunnel to fill with smoke, trapping passengers. One person died and 80 others were injured. NTSB officials said in a preliminary report that the electrical event involved cables that power the train's third rail.

The steps that Troup announced include:
• requiring train operators to turn off air intake systems the minute a train stops for a smoke incident;
• setting a schedule for emergency drills to be conducted wayside every quarter for the next three years;
• designing and installing exterior signage for exterior doors to clearly delineate emergency access; and
• inspecting third-rail cables and cable installations for wear and tear.

Meanwhile, congressional members representing districts in the metro D.C. area met yesterday for an NTSB briefing on the matter.

"We got some answers today, but a lot of questions remain," U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a press release issued after the briefing. "We were told that the Jan. 12th incident has resulted in a [WMATA-wide] change in how the system uses exhaust fans and ventilation systems in tunnels and aboard individual train cars. These are positive steps, but I still want answers about evacuation and training protocols."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/23/2015