About Saturday’s Metro Mess and Fire near the Friendship Heights Metro Station

by Prince Of Petworth April 26, 2016 at 3:00 pm 13 Comments

Photo sent to us Saturday night by charosb


“The investigation into the cause of a Saturday evening smoke incident outside Friendship Heights Station is ongoing. While Metro has not yet identified the root cause of the incident, investigators have eliminated power cables as a contributing factor.

As a preliminary matter, the investigation is focusing on a foreign object, specifically a metal part of a railcar, becoming dislodged and making contact with the electrified third rail. The foreign contact is believed to have caused a loud noise, flash and smoke.

Investigators have conducted inspections of all power infrastructure in the tunnel, as well as all cars of the incident train, to reach this preliminary conclusion.

Preliminary Investigative Findings as of 5 p.m. Monday, April 25

At approximately 7:19 p.m., Saturday, April 23, the operator of Red Line train #107 traveling outbound reported hearing a loud boom and smoke entering the lead car.
The train consisted of eight cars: four 5000-series and four 1000-series.
The train stopped in the tunnel prior to Friendship Heights Station.
Passengers were moved into the trailing cars of the train.
The train operator was instructed to reverse direction and was given permission to move back to Tenleytown Station, where the train was offloaded.
Prior to the train being moved, an unknown passenger pulled an emergency door release, causing the train to lose “all doors closed” indication. It was confirmed that no passengers “self evacuated” from the train. Once all doors were confirmed closed, the train was moved.
There were no injuries.

Metro and the Federal Transit Administration continue to investigate the cause of this incident. Updates will be provided as information is developed.”

  • jdre

    I like the transparency in the reporting. But I’m confused now. In an emergency with smoke – should we pull the door and evacuate, or wait for instruction from the operator as to what their plan is?

    • nevermindtheend

      I would wait for instruction unless you are in imminent danger. The train is almost always the safest place to be in these situations. Once someone pulls the emergency door release, the train can’t move because it won’t get the “all doors closed” indication. That’s why it took so long for the train to move in Saturday’s case – the operator had to get permission from central to operate in manual mode and had to go very slowly in case anyone had self-evacuated.

      • yup

        True. No one was ever hurt waiting for instructions from metro in a smoke filled car

        • nevermindtheend

          Y’all are just skipping right over the “unless you are in imminent danger” part of my comment. My point is that panicking and pulling the emergency door release immediately is almost always going to be the wrong response. That prevents the train from quickly moving out of whatever situation it is in. For example, if you can see flames *outside* of your train, it’s probably not a great idea to try to leave the train. That seems to be the situation on Saturday.

          Obviously there are situations where evacuation is the correct response.

      • Metrpro

        How would you even hear the instructions, assuming any are even given? About 1 in 5 trains I ride has a working intercom.

      • textdoc

        And it also rests on the assumption that the people in central command are actually doing their jobs properly.
        In the case where the woman died, the train driver was desperately trying to get permission from central command to back the train up to L’Enfant Plaza, and they kept denying him. (I think this came out in the NTSB report, where they analyzed the transcripts of the communications.)

  • Blithe

    Well, that’s reassuring! Seriously, although I’m concerned that the cause of the incident has yet to be discovered — yes, this is the station that I use the most — I appreciate the effort that Metro is making to provide timely informational updates.

    • ***

      Is it though? Isn’t the suggestion that what cased the fire is literally the railcar falling apart piece by piece?

      • Ben

        Haha. Came here to post this. Reading between the lines poor rail car maintainenence could be a factor. Scary.

      • Blithe

        Sorry — my “that’s reassuring” was meant as sarcasm. I need a sarcasm emoji. I do think it’s terrifying that after several days plus the earlier system shut down, they’re not clear on the cause of the problem. I’m also thinking (?) that the series 1000 cars are the oldest ones that now are used only as middle section cars because of previous problems. So between the older cars and the less than optimally maintained system as a whole, I have a lot of concerns about Metro. At the same time, I feel it’s still safer than the alternatives, and I genuinely appreciate the effort to provide more detailed, timely information about the problem-solving process.

        • ***

          You have far more trust than I. I stopped thinking of the metro as a safe and viable means of transit years ago. I staunchly refuse to set foot on the system now, even if it means taking a bus that will take 2-3x longer to get there. I value my life and mental health more than my time.

  • “Good news, everyone! The power lines are fine!”

  • textdoc

    The Washington Post had a pretty comprehensive article the other day on the history of Metro and how/when things went wrong:


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