Washington Metro Experiences Fire at L’Enfant Plaza; WMATA Restores Service without Answers from NTSB

4:15 Update: The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary investigation has concluded there was no fire yesterday. A malfunction known as electrical arcing caused the Metro incident at L’Enfant Plaza station. The malfunction caused an abrupt stop of the train in the tunnel, causing the tunnel and station to fill with smoke. NTSB told the Washington Post that “electrical arcing is a malfunction in which current escapes from the third rail that carries power used to move the train cars. Trains have “shoes” that extend from the car, make contact with the third rail and draw electricity.”

A GWU Hospital spokesman told the Washington Post that 34 people suffering inhalation were taken in. Others were taken to Howard University Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

During the emergency, Washington, DC firefighters were dispatched immediately, but once they arrived, it was uncertain whether the Metro’s third rail was still electrified. Delays described by passengers are differing than accounts of fire department and WMATA officials.

Metro passengers and the Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA) experienced tragedy yesterday at 3:30 pm when a fire produced smoke, filling up Metro cars and the entire L’Enfant Metro station near Smithsonian and the National Mall. 83 passengers were reportedly hospitalized for smoke inhalation and other injuries, and one woman actually died.

Six hours later, WMATA had restored service to all stations, but many commuting passengers displaced by the emergency were forced to wait in long buses in the to get home to Maryland and Virginia for hours that evening.

According to Metro spokesman, such explanations cannot be released until the National Transportation Safety Board completes their investigation. This policy is surprising to many considering suicides, track problems, other tragedies in the Metro are experienced and reported on almost immediately, leaving Metro riders in the dark to what safety problems may currently exist.

Video taken from a rider shows passengers choking, coughing, and a train car filled to the brim with smoke while a Metro engineer tells passenger to “Please stay calm….Do not try to open the doors.” 

Despite Metro not suggesting a cause, speculation on reasons for the smoke include electrical fire and shutting down the third rail, which could cause smoke to fill a station. Today WMATA has changed its service to add more Blue Line trains both directions, replacing all Yellow Line service. Trains are running every 6 or 8-12 minutes on all Metro Lines. For the full changes, read the WMATA press release below:

Metrorail service information for Tuesday, January 13

Updated: 4:55 a.m. / January 13, 2015

Green Line trains will run normal service every 6 minutes between Branch Avenue and Greenbelt.

A limited shuttle bus option is available between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza, running every 20 minutes. Board shuttle buses from Pentagon at the lower level of the Pentagon bus bays; from L’Enfant Plaza at 7th & Maryland St SW.

### Original release below ###

Metro is advising rail customers of the following service changes for Tuesday, January 13, following today’s incident at L’Enfant Plaza:

All Yellow Line service will be replaced with additional Blue Line trains operating between Huntington and Largo Town Center, via Rosslyn. Trains on this route will depart every 12 minutes. Use Green Line trains for service between Greenbelt and Downtown DC.

Blue Line trains between Franconia-Springfield and Largo Town Center will operate every 12 minutes.

Orange Line trains will run every 8 minutes between Vienna and New Carrollton.

Silver Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Wiehle-Reston East and Largo Town Center, with many trains expanded to 8-cars long to provide additional capacity.

Green Line

  • The best-case scenario for the Green Line is that a single track will be available for rail service. If a single track is available, Green Line trains will run between Greenbelt and Branch Ave every 8-10 minutes.
  • If the track is not available in the morning, then rail service will remain suspended on the Green Line between Navy Yard and Gallery Place. Under this scenario, trains would run between Greenbelt and Gallery Place every 8 minutes, and trains between Branch Ave and Navy Yard would run every 8 minutes. Free shuttle bus service would be provided operate between Navy Yard and Gallery Place, making intermediate stops at Waterfront, L’Enfant Plaza and Archives. (Archives and Waterfront stations would be closed; L’Enfant Plaza would be open for Silver, Orange and Blue line service only.)

Red Line service is unaffected and will operate on a regular weekday schedule.

Regular Metrobus and Circulator bus service may provide a good alternate travel option for some riders. To check, use the Trip Planner at wmata.com and select the “bus only” option.

 Source: WMATA