What Happened On the D.C. Metro?
January 14, 2015
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Monday’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro tragedy provides more questions than answers in its wake.  As details slowly leak out, the National Traffic and Safety Board (NTSB) has said only that the event which killed one and injured almost 100 more on Monday was the result of an “electrical malfunction.” While the cause of the tragedy is still far from determined several questions are arising not just about the maintenance of the tunnels and trains but about the plans in place to evacuate and assist trapped travelers in such an event.

Electrical “Arcing” Cause of Tragedy on Metro

A “third rail,” which provides electricity sufficient to propel the enormous trains across Maryland, Virginia and the Washington D.C., is the apparent source of the “arc” of electricity. The electricity necessary to accomplish this feat is estimated at 750 Watts. An arc of electricity generally requires a conduit to carry it such as water, debris, or oil. While it is beyond dispute that water was in the tunnel, it is still very unclear how the arc was created. An arc can be a simple spark or a full stream of electricity known as a “stray current”.  Once the arc of electricity is set in motion it begins to create gases which only add to the conductivity in a cycle. The problem essentially feeds itself.


Not the First D.C. Metro Incident

In 2012, the Green Line became disabled and passengers pried the doors of the train open themselves and walked along the tracks toward the College Park Station. In 2013, a similar incident occurred leaving approximately 2000 passengers stranded on two separate trains. Again, frustrated passengers took action themselves and evacuated the trains when it seemed no assistance had arrived. These events and others like them lead the transit agency to inform the public that they were going to review and its evacuation protocols and conduct more training for employees.

The agency’s most recent safety reports indicate that in 2013 there were over 80 smoke and fire related incidents related to the Metro. In the first 8 months of 2014 there were over 80. This is a disturbing trend on multiple levels.

  • First, the issue of proper maintenance of the tracks and system is obvious.
  • Second, but just as important is the issue of what, if anything WMATA, has been doing to ensure that passengers are timely removed from life threatening situations on their trains.

While passengers on disabled trains in the past have merely been aggravated Monday’s situation demonstrates that failing to act promptly in a disabled train situation can lead to horrifying consequences.  Scores of people were trapped inside an enclosed train while smoke poured into it, filling their lungs and choking them. Several witnesses recounted praying and believing they were about to die as they waited for upwards of 40 minutes for assistance or instruction. Most tragically, an individual, Carol Glover of Alexandria, Virginia, died and several others were seriously injured as they were choked by the smoke.

Protect Your Rights if You Were Involved in the D.C. Metro Smoke Incident

Ashcraft & Gerel is currently investigating claims arising from this tragedy at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro stop. If you have been injured as a result of this incident, we want to help protect your rights.

Please contact us online or call us today at (866) 709-0505.