- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

District leaders on Tuesday said they remain confident in the agencies that respond to emergencies and terrorist incidents on Metro, despite the mixed reaction from trapped riders on how long it took first responders to reach a stopped, smoke-filled train Monday in which one woman died and scores were hospitalized.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident and said that smoke filled the Yellow Line train in a tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza station after something came in contact with the high-voltage third rail.

“We will find out what happened, get to the bottom of what happened, and commit to fixing it,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Ms. Bowser declined to provide a timeline of Monday’s events or confirm when first responders initially reached the disabled train, but did say that the city’s fire department “responded within the time frames that are customary.”

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Eugene Jones said Monday’s response, which some passengers have reportedly said took 40 minutes, doesn’t shake his faith in the department’s ability to handle such emergencies.

“We respond every day to things that we’re faced with. I think we do an outstanding job,” Chief Jones said. “I don’t think it calls into question anything that we do.”

According to information released Monday night by the NTSB, around 3:30 p.m. Monday, a train was leaving the L’Enfant station and suddenly stopped about 800 feet inside a tunnel. About 1,100 feet ahead of the train was what NTSB investigator Michael Flanigon called an “electrical arcing event” involving the third rail.

Smoke filled the tunnel and made breathing difficult inside of the stopped train. More than 200 people were evaluated by medical personnel after the incident, according to fire officials.

Metro on Tuesday identified the woman who died as 61-year-old Carol Inman Glover of Alexandria, a mother of two and an employee of D.C.-based contractor support firm DKW Communications Inc. Twenty-one people remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon, including three reportedly in critical condition.

Metro officials cautioned that it may take some time before they know the exact cause of the deadly accident.

“This will be a thorough process that often takes time, and we understand that passengers want answers quickly,” said Metro Board Chairman Tom Downs in a statement released Tuesday. “Please know that once the cause of this incident is understood, we are prepared to take the actions needed to prevent this from happening again.”

Concerns were raised about the number of fires and smoke incidents occurring in Metro stations earlier this year by the Tri-state Oversight Committee, a group that oversees safety on Metro.

According to the latest quarterly safety report from Metro’s Department of Safety and Environmental Management, 57 fires and 28 smoke incidents were reported from January through August 2014. For all of 2013, Metro reported 44 fires and 43 smoke incidents.

The organization said it inquired last summer “about whether a recent uptick of fire incidents in the Metrorail system are indicative of a more serious problem.” Officials from the committee did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

A Metro spokeswoman declined Tuesday to comment on the reports and the ongoing investigation, referring all questions to NTSB.

Ms. Bowser, who previously served on Metro’s board of directors, said she believes the subway system’s safety has been significantly enhanced in the time since a 2009 crash killed nine people on the Red Line.

“I think the safety culture has dramatically improved,” Ms. Bowser said. “That’s why this is shocking and so disappointing that we’ve had this failure, whatever the result turns out to be.”

Metro suspended service to the L’Enfant Plaza station, a transfer point serving five of six Metro lines, as the investigation continued. Yellow Line service was suspended Tuesday, but service on other lines returned to the station, though trains ran less frequently.

NTSB investigators on Tuesday were conducting a post-recovery examination of the train involved in Monday’s incident.

Retired NTSB investigator Bob Chipkevich said the agency will likely look to determine not only the root cause of the smoke but also at how Metro employees are trained to handle such emergencies, if protocol was followed, and whether ventilation in train tunnels can be improved.

“Anytime you have fire and smoke in an underground system, there is risk that needs to be assessed and if it’s occurring on a regular basis there should be a safety assessment,” said Mr. Chipkevich, who served as director of the agency’s Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations.

NTSB has investigated at least two other Metro incidents — a train derailment and a maintenance vehicle crash that killed two workers — since the 2009 train crash that killed nine people.

The 2009 crash between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations was the last incident in which Metro passengers were killed.

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

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