Metro: No cause of Silver Spring fire yet

Police and firefighters respond to a report of smoke and flames coming from underneath an empty railcar stopped at the Silver Spring station Tuesday evening. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

WASHINGTON – Metro continues to investigate what caused a railcar to catch fire during the evening rush hour this week.

Although the ultimate cause of the fire that badly damaged one of the transit agency’s oldest model railcars and left hundreds of commuters stranded has not been determined, the transit agency released preliminary findings Wednesday. Metro engineers will need several more days to inspect the burnt train, the agency says.

Investigators preliminarily believe the flash fire that came from underneath the railcar indicates that a metal-shielded hose came into contact with power cables, creating an electrical short.

Metro says it received a report of three small explosions, smoke and fire coming from a railcar shortly after 6 p.m. Riders reported hearing booms and a video captured the explosions or flare-ups from a nearby building.

Investigators have ruled out track conditions as the root cause in the fire, Metro says.

The fire badly damaged the underside of the carriage and the side of the railcar but did not damage the inside of the passenger compartment, Metro says.

The damaged railcar is one of the oldest types of railcar Metro operates, known as the 1000-series. The deadly Metro crash in 2009 that killed nine people involved a train made up of 1000-series cars.

As a result of that crash, Metro decided to move the older cars to the middle of trains and federal safety officials ordered Metro to retire the series. Metro will begin phasing out the old cars next year, replacing them with 7000-series model of rail cars.

Because of Tuesday’s fire, Metro staff will check the hoses and wires on all of the oldest model cars. That process should be complete by the end of the week, says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

Metro says it will also review the operation of the train, including the disembarking of riders at the Takoma station, as part of its investigation. Some riders told WTOP the fire began before they got off the train at Takoma. No riders were on the train when it stopped at Silver Spring and no injuries were reported.

The fire shut down the Silver Spring station for about three hours and Red Line service was suspended for 90 minutes, leaving commuters stranded in the middle of the evening rush hour. MARC train service was also suspended between Union Station and Silver Spring because of the fire.

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