Report on summer Green Line incident lacks details
By Dana Hedgpeth,
A final report on the botched evacuation of passengers from a sweltering Green Line train last summer includes nothing about how Metro plans to prevent riders from fleeing stranded trains or about how the transit agency would better inform riders caught in a dangerous incident.
The five-page document, called the “final report of investigation,” provides a summary of the probe’s findings — including the weather — and lays out a timeline of the July 3 incident, in which a train lost power and frustrated, frightened passengers decided to get off the train and walk the tracks to the nearest station.
Last week, there was another problematic evacuation on Metro’s Green Line, set in motion by a smoking piece on the track near the Navy Yard station. Nearly 2,000 passengers were stuck for two hours aboard trains on Jan. 30, and about 200 of them, acting on their own, left the train and walked through the tunnels. Three days earlier, on Jan. 27, dozens of riders were stranded for two hours on an Orange Line train that lost power near the Cheverly station.
Mort Downey, chairman of the Metro board’s safety and security committee, said that after the July Green Line incident, Metro had “several discussions and a public meeting of how things should go” in such situations.
“We established a norm of responding,” he said. “If we did those things, then we wouldn’t have a reoccurrence.”
The report on last July’s evacuation, released to The Washington Post on Tuesday, months after it requested documents related to the incident, says little about the communications breakdown that left riders largely on their own on that summer day.
Downey said Metro has to figure out how to get control of a situation sooner. “We have to admit that whatever we did, it wasn’t enough to prevent a situation that we don’t want to see happen.”
Jim Benton, chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which monitors Metro, also expressed concern. “Passengers being stranded on trains for long periods of time is an issue, and the investigation is still ongoing to determine why,” he said. “We want Metro to strive to correct problems like this once and for all. ”
In the report on the July incident, the agency redacted the names of the train operator, the person who drafted the report and the person who initially reviewed the report. Metro said that the names were redactedbecause of personal “privacy” reasons and becausethe agency thinks “this type of information does not shed light on how [Metro] operates.” James Dougherty, Metro’s chief safety officer, signed off on the report in October.
According to the document, there were several factors that led to the incident.
At 5:49 p.m., the train operator reported that the train had gone into emergency braking. The train eventually stopped just outside the College Park station. Another train was sent to try to rescue that train, but it also lost power as it approached.
The problem was twofold. There was a “momentary loss” of Pepco feeders to a substation, and a piece of equipment on the tracks that monitors power to the rail had been knocked out of service by the derecho storm on June 29, four nights earlier.
Metro’s rail operations command center couldn’t tell remotely that the power in that area had gone out, so it continued to send trains.
Adding to the problem, the report said, was that there was bad radio communication between the trains and the operations command center.
Metro said it found a “power failure” in the building that houses its radio transmitter. The building had power problems because of the derecho.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency knew there were “a lot of residual issues ” from the storm but that crews “hadn’t yet gotten to bringing this [remote terminal unit that monitors power] on line.”
Metro officials defended their final investigation of the July incident, saying that after the incident, the agency instituted a policy that requires Metro Transit Police to be called within five minutes of a train losing power.
Local fire departments are notified if there is a disabled train without power, according to Stessel. There is no protocol requiring Metro to contact local police for assistance with stranded trains.
The transit agency said it has also put in place a procedure in which “standby crews” would be located in areas where power units were not working “to provide for a quicker response to incidents.”
Metro said it would also check radio communications in the area for “any variations from the normal conditions.”
Lori Aratani and Mark Berman contributed to this report.