At a meeting Thursday of the Metro board’s safety and security committee, officials laid out details of their inquiry into the Jan. 30 incident and provided a three-page report to committee members.
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, who publicly apologized after the Jan. 30 evacuation, told the committee that the agency had mishandled the incident.
“We faced up to the issues, and it was a terrible situation,” Sarles said. “Protocols were not followed. We would not have been there had protocols been followed.”
Sarles said he understood that Metro employees were working under pressure but he said that “we need to improve on the situation.”
The Washington Post has asked for Metro records related to the evacuation incident, but the agency can take as long as 20 days to respond and has yet to provide any of the requested documents.
Leading up to the Jan. 30 incident, crews were working to repair an electrical insulator that had started to smoke, and trains had started to single-track — or use the same track in both directions — through the area.
A Metro Transit Police sergeant on the scene saw train lights coming and did not know the train was going to divert to the other track. Thinking that workers on the track were in danger, the sergeant hit an emergency cutoff switch, according to officials. Two trains — 507 and 512 — were waiting their turns to go through and were stranded when that stretch of track lost power.
After cutting off power, the sergeant failed to follow protocol, which required him to pick up a nearby phone that provides a direct line to the agency’s command center, according to the account provided at the meeting. That left the operations command center in the dark about why power had been shut off on that section of track, Metro officials said.
The sergeant radioed a transit police liaison in the command center, but the liaison failed to communicate to other authorities that the power had been cut by the sergeant on the scene.
Just as the command center was about to restore power, it received reports that passengers had exited trains and were walking on the tracks. About 200 passengers came up a vent shaft and surfaced in Anacostia Park.
Compounding the crisis were concerns about a powerful thunderstorm that was about to hit the area. “Customers were alarmed,” said Lynn Bowersox, assistant general manager for customer service, communications and marketing. “That sense of alarm led them to self-evacuate.”