Metro plans regular tests of radio system

WASHINGTON – Metro is developing a plan to routinely test its radio communications after the Jan. 12 smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza that left one person dead and dozens injured.

As fire crews responded to the smoke-filled train, they ran into trouble as they tried to communicate using their radios.

According to Metro, there will soon be a new set of “formal protocols and procedures for radio testing” that will be included in an agreement between the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency and first responders across the region.

The plans were detailed in a letter to U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Virginia, in response to an inquiry from him.

“I am encouraged that Metro is now developing a plan to regularly test emergency communications systems with local governments,” Warner said.

However, the changes will not be immediate.

As the letter points out, Metro will first need to test radio communication in all stations and tunnels and document the findings, a process that will take 30 days.

It will take even more time to draft and put in effect new rules that will dictate how and when regular system-wide radio testing will occur.

But Warner wishes the process would move more quickly.

“What I want to see from Metro is a real sense of urgency,” Warner said. “If problems are detected, we should expect that that they will be addressed in a matter of hours, and not days or weeks.”

WMATA is creating its new protocols with guidance from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Several days before the deadly Jan. 12 incident, city officials alerted Metro that firefighters were having trouble using their radios. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the fatal incident and is looking into communications as part of its review.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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