NTSB: Metro fan use sent smoke toward train

WASHINGTON – Federal investigators say Metro did not use its underground ventilation fans properly and pushed smoke toward a stopped train near the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in January.

In documents released Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board says that Metro turned on exhaust fans to vent the smoke in the station, which had the effect of drawing the smoke along the tunnel, into the train and toward the station, instead of away from the train toward a nearby vent shaft.

The train operator also did not shut off the train’s ventilation, which allowed the thick, yellow smoke to filter into the cars, the documents says.

One of the train’s riders died as a result of smoke inhalation and dozens of other passengers were taken to the hospital as a result of the smoke incident.

According to the documents, two of the four fans in the tunnel’s vent shaft either did not work or stopped working during the smoke incident on Jan. 12.

As as result of the board’s ongoing investigation, the NTSB urged Metro to find a way determine the exact location of smoke problems. The board also suggests Metro write ventilation procedures and strategies, include those strategies in training programs and to complete a maintenance review of the exhaust system in tunnels to ensure the fans work.

The documents say that Metro staff did not use “best practices” when turning on the fans, which can either bring fresh air into the system or draw air outside.

In a statement, Metro says it has begun to address concerns about the tunnel ventilation systems. After the L’Enfant Plaza incident, Metro inspected the tunnel fans and found them “to be in good working condition.” Controllers were re-trained and protocols and additional training related to the fans are being reviewed.

Acting NTSB Chair Christopher Hart briefed the Council of Governments on the ongoing investigation Wednesday afternoon. Metro officials also appeared before the council for questioning.

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