1-13-15 – Location – Washington, DC – Incident – Metro Train Station Fills With Smoke

A subway train passenger died while 83 others – two of them in critical condition – were rushed to hospitals after they were trapped in smoke-filled rail cars in Washington D.C. on Monday afternoon, safety officials said.


The Metrorail train bound for Virginia had just pulled out of L’Enfant Plaza station on its way to the Pentagon when, at around 3:30  PM, smoke ahead in the tunnel started filling the rail cars. The train driver was unable to pull the cars back into the station, trapping some passengers until firefighters pulled them out.

The L’Enfant Plaza station is near the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and several Smithsonian museums.

Safety investigators said there was no fire in the tunnel and the train did not derail. They said a high-powered “arcing event,” when energy leaps from the train’s third rail, may have caused the smoke.

Michael Flanigon of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said arcing events are common in subway systems but investigators have yet to determine why this one turned deadly.  He did hint that water in the tunnel could have triggered the problem.

Most of the passengers in the train’s eight cars scrambled to leave before help arrived. Some hoofed it through the dark tunnel to a vent shaft and went through several flights of stairs to make it to the ground while others jumped out of the train cars.

Rescuers aided trapped passengers out of the rail cars, all the way back to the downtown station, which is a transfer point for five of Metrorail’s six lines. The station was closed for a couple of hours while some service on D.C.’s Green and Yellow Lines was stopped.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced possible changes to train service for Tuesday in a message posted on its website.