- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Three Metro Transit Police officers saw smoke and entered the L’Enfant Station tunnel to investigate its cause before the arrival of a train that later became disabled and filled with smoke, according to a new account from a passenger injured during the fatal Jan. 12 incident.

It is unclear what, if any, action the officers may have taken to report the smoke to authorities. But the latest witness account raises new questions about how the transit authority’s employees are trained to respond in such situations just as the D.C. Council prepares to hold its first public hearing to investigate the city’s emergency response system.

Jeremy Reed, a 36-year-old federal employee, described the minutes leading up to the arrival of the train at the L’Enfant station in an interview with The Washington Times.

Mr. Reed said he saw two female Metro Transit Police officers on his side of the train platform yelling across the tracks to a male officer on the other side about a trail of smoke emanating from the tunnel. All three officers entered the tunnel, walking along platforms on the sides of the train tunnel.

“They actually went into the tunnel with their flashlights,” said Mr. Reed, one of dozens of train passengers who were hospitalized after spending more than 30 minutes stuck inside the smoke-filled train. “Within a minute they were back out.”

What conclusions the officers drew after investigating the source of the smoke are unclear, but whatever they found apparently did not concern the officers enough to avoid getting onboard the train that eventually became trapped inside the smoky tunnel.

SEE ALSO: Metro: Radio issues with firefighters slowed communication in fatal train incident

“When the train arrived on the platform, the two female officers boarded without speaking to the operator or any other passengers,” said Mr. Reed, who has retained attorney Kim Brooks-Rodney and intends to file a lawsuit.

One woman died and more than 80 people were hospitalized after the passenger-filled train became disabled inside a tunnel and filled with smoke. A report by District officials indicates passengers waited, coughing and gasping for clean air, for at least 30 minutes from the time the train stopped until first responders reached them and began an evacuation.

“My question would be, ‘When the smoke was known to exist, was it communicated to someone?’” said Mr. Reed, who spent two nights at George Washington University Hospital as a result of the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, has said the smoke was caused by “electrical arcing,” which occurs when something comes in contact with the train’s high-voltage third rail. While the investigation is underway, neither NTSB nor Metro officials would comment on Mr. Reed’s account.

Ms. Brooks-Rodney, the attorney, believes Mr. Reed’s account shows a disregard for any existing safety protocol.

“From what’s being described, there was not protocol being followed,” she said. “To have a good plan and not implement it doesn’t help anybody that was on those subway trains.”

SEE ALSO: 1 dead, dozens hospitalized after smoke shuts down Metro station

City officials are investigating the events that led up to the Jan. 12 incident, as well as issues, including radio failures, that contributed to the problematic emergency response.

District officials said Wednesday that they have been conducting weekly testing of firefighters’ radios in the Metro system and have corrected all the problems found. Testing done the week of Jan. 23 found nine locations where radios failed. Follow-up testing completed Jan. 31 found one failure that has since been corrected.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who is holding the council’s first public hearing on the incident Thursday, called Mr. Reed’s account of the minutes before the ordeal “troubling.”

“If that’s what occurred, it’s deeply troubling,” said Mr. McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat.

He added that he hopes his hearing, which will include officials from four D.C. public safety agencies, will help highlight agency protocol for emergency situations.

“The assumption is there were protocol already in place. What were they?” said Mr. McDuffie, head of the council’s public safety committee. “I hope the hearing will make clear the emergency response protocol for the District’s public safety agencies. The public ought to know whether they were executed properly on Jan. 12.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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