Last year, a train accident occurred when it came to a dead stop more than 800 feet into a tunnel in the middle of the afternoon. The lights flickered and went dark. Moments later, passengers on the No. 302 train began to see smoke creeping under the doors. This accident will become known as the smoke incident.
Passengers began to panic as the smoke built, covering the train cars in a haze. Some riders screamed, some tried to open the car doors. In a video published by the Washington Post, passengers can be seen covering their faces and trying to coordinate by rationing water to children and other smoke inhalation victims who needed it most. Some passengers tried to pass around inhalers to victims who were choking. A young man began having a seizure, while another woman collapsed. Passengers tried to give the woman CPR. However, neither they nor emergency responders would be able to revive her. Help would not arrive for another hour.
What Caused the Smoke Incident on the Stopped D.C. Metro Train No. 302?
As we discussed in a prior blog, the National Transportation Safety Board explained an “electrical arcing event” happened approximately 1,000 feet ahead of where the Metro train stopped. Firefighters and other first responders took longer to respond to the stopped train because there was uncertainty as to whether the subway’s third rail had been deactivated. Finally, the rescue teams arrived and led more than 380 passengers overwhelmed with coughing fits through a tunnel and to emergency vehicles. The accident left one passenger dead and more than 86 with severe respiratory problems.
The Metro train accident should have been handled more efficiently. Metro transit’s slow response and failed communication between subway workers further exacerbated the situation. According to the investigation, the train operator in the train following behind the No. 302 received no warning of smoke inhalation from the train controllers and, when the operator saw smoke in the station, evacuated her passengers and left the empty car blocking the station, preventing the No. 302 from backing out of the tunnel.
Metro Faces 87 Lawsuits From Passengers of Smoke-Filled Train This Year
Last month, 87 claimants filed lawsuits against the Metro transit agency, despite the fact the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is still ongoing. Passengers aboard all suffered illnesses which ranged from post-traumatic stress disorder to asthma. The family of the woman who died on the No. 302 has also sued Metro for $50 million. However, the family must wait for the National Transportation Safety Board to finish its investigation before going to trial. The family and the 87 other claimants have been waiting for more than one year, and Metro refuses to settle compensation outside of court.
The real tragedy lies in the failure from the Metro Rail Operations Control Center to communicate with emergency response teams. Had the communication been more open and emergency plans more effectively put in place, perhaps one woman’s life would not be lost. The 87 claimants hope that in the future, these communication failures are addressed in order to prevent future tragedies on the Metro trains.