After smoke filled a Yellow Line train because of electrical arcing on Monday, Jan. 12, city and federal officials have responded with concern about the safety of the Metro and the lack of disclosure provided by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) expressed extreme concern about the incident that occurred and the safety of the Metro moving forward.
“From the initial reports, it seems clear that communication problems between emergency responders and Metro, both underground and above ground, appear to have caused critical delays in rescuing hundreds of passengers from two smoke filled trains that took the life of one passenger and sent 86 others to the hospital,” she said in a press release on Jan. 17.
The timeline, according to the District, included what Congresswoman Norton believed to be a failure in communication between Metro and Emergency Response Services.
Emergency responders received their first call 18 minutes after the incident began. Before that, officials report that they were unaware that an emergency evacuation would be necessary.
“It may well be what prevented the loss of more lives is that it only took Metro one minute to activate the tunnel’s ventilation system, which indicates that Metro understood a serious incident was underway. At the same time, Metro may not have communicated the severity of the situation to emergency officials,” she said.
Several D.C. councilmembers raised concerns about the incident at a press conference held Wednesday.
Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) expressed concern at a briefing held by Chairman Tom Downs on Tuesday. She requested that Downs respond generally to concerns about the safety of the Metro while the official investigation is still going on.
“I’ve heard from a number of constituents who are just feeling scared about whether it’s safe to ride the Metro,” she said.
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) added that the city has a responsibility to residents and commuters to provide a safe Metro system.
“We are asking people, thousands every day, almost a million in the entire system, to ride Metro. We encourage them to do that,” he said. “At the very least, we could … make sure they have the information that arms them to make an informed decision.”
Tom Downs, chairman of the WMATA board of directors, said WMATA will be investigating the incident and instituting any changes that are necessary.
“No matter what the findings are, whether it shows that Metro did something wrong in this process, we are not going to contest it,” he said. “Whatever they recommend as safety fixes, we are going to put the resources in to make those changes as quickly as they can be made.”
Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) probed Downs about why Metro wouldn’t talk about repairs that must be made in response to last week’s incident.
“Councilmember, I would posit that the facts are actually important before jumping to conclusions about what needs to be fixed,” Downs said.
Although officials have been concerned about lack of disclosure following the Metro incident, closed-door briefings with city and federal lawmakers began Wednesday.
A report on the smoke incident was released last Saturday by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s office. It shows concerns that have subsequently been mentioned by city and federal officials.
The major concern reported in the document claims firefighters in the tunnel around the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station were unable to communicate well by radio with officials outside the tunnel because signal-boosting equipment was not working correctly. The equipment is under Metro’s control, and the report claims that fire officials told the transit agency about the problem days before the incident.
Passengers were stuck inside train cars full of smoke for at least 35 minutes. Transit experts have said that it was unclear whether the fans, which would have diffused smoke, were working properly during the incident. According to Metro records, 171 fire and smoke incidents have been reported in the Metrorail system in 2013 and the first eight months of 2014.
WMATA released a letter apologizing to its riders last Sunday.
“We apologize to all riders and particularly to the family of Carol Glover and those injured or impacted by the events of Monday afternoon,” Downs wrote. “We know that we have to redouble our efforts to learn from this and take every step necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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