Metro officials continue to investigate Red Line derailment
WASHINGTON — Metro has not yet determined the cause of Monday’s Red Line derailment, but they are pleased with improvements to emergency responses made in the wake of the fatal L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident two years ago, WMATA officials said.
“The final cause has not been determined,” said WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, while noting that a crack or break in the rail may have led to the derailment, which took place at 6:40 a.m. outside Farragut North station on Monday. Metro is also considering whether human error was a contributing factor, he said.
Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin added that WMATA protocol is to send a preliminary report to the Federal Transit Administration within three days of a safety incident.
WMATA spokesperson Sherri Ly confirmed no one on the eight-car train was injured in the incident, and that all riders and Metro employees evacuated within two hours.
Red Line riders experienced some delays due to single-tracking between Farragut North and Judiciary Square on Tuesday while workers returned the three derailed 7000-series cars to the track and made repairs, but officials said that the single-tracking ended at 10:30 am Tuesday.
Wiedefeld said Metro would have to rebuild the 10-foot section of rail involved in the derailment. Although it was made in 1993, Wiedefeld said the sections can last as many as 50 years before needing replacement. The section of track near Farragut North Station is scheduled for another ultrasound inspection next month, and technicians found no issues with the track during the most recent ultrasonic test in August.
Both Wiedefeld and WMATA Board of Directors chairman, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (Ward 2) on Monday favorably compared the response to the derailment by both WMATA and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Service with the L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident, which took place nearly three years ago, noting that areas of both agencies’ incident response which were the subject of National Transportation Safety Board recommendations showed improvement.
While an abundance of smoke was not a grave issue with this derailment, Wiedefeld said, radio communication in the tunnels was vastly improved compared with three years ago even though Metro radios did not work part of the time while Metro employees and DC Fire and EMS were responding to the derailment.
“I know the fire department’s radios worked perfectly,” Wiedefeld said. “We had some spotting – spottiness with our radios.”
He said WMATA management remains aware of ongoing radio communication problems in the system, which was one of several categories in which National Transportation Safety Board officials found safety deficiencies during the 2015 smoke incident.
“Obviously we always – we want 100 percent, but we know that we have issues that we’ve been working on; we’re replacing it through the whole system,” said Wiedefeld, noting that a project to improve radio coverage is ongoing at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. The project will also finally bring mobile phone coverage to Metro’s tunnels, bringing the system in line with many of its big-city counterparts around the world, including Tokyo and London.
Evans said having a 24/7 fire department liaison in Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) helped considerably with the coordination of emergency response.
“My understanding was that communication went quite well,” Evans said. “It went really well with fire and EMS, [and] between Metro with the people on the train. You saw some of the interviews…people were very positive about – not the experience, obviously – but positive about how they were [informed].”
He added that unlike the 2015 incident during which no explanatory announcements were made, Metro communications told riders that trains were single-tracking because a train had derailed.
“Everything worked the way it was supposed to work, which is, in short, a tremendous contrast to what it was three years ago, which was like the Keystone Kops with the – at the other place [L’Enfant Plaza],” Evans said. “So, I think we made a lot of progress because we constantly now train for these things.”
“It was L’Enfant Plaza – Carol Glover was killed about three years ago,” Evans said.
Glover was a passenger on the train that stopped in the smoky tunnel Jan. 13, 2015.
Evans attributed the improvement to Metro’s quarterly emergency response drills with fire departments and emergency response teams.
“Just do it over and over again so when it happens, you’re ready to go,” Evans said.
During the 2015 L’Enfant Plaza incident, an electrical problem caused a train to stop while smoke built up in the Yellow/Green Line tunnel. Exposure to the smoke resulted in the death of Glover and left dozens injured. National Transportation Safety Board officials harshly criticized both WMATA and DC FEMS following the NTSB investigation of the incident. The resulting NTSB report included numerous recommendations to both agencies, as well as to the Federal Transit Administration.
Buses replaced trains between Dupont Circle and Judiciary Square stations until around 10:30 a.m. Monday, officials said. The derailment caused delays in both directions on the Red Line. Trains continued single-tracking until 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The last train derailment on mainline track during passenger service was a Silver Line train near East Falls Church Station July 29, 2016. EMS transported two riders to an Arlington hospital, where one of them received treatment for a minor head injury.