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Metro board chairman says smoke incidents could happen again

More track work may be in store as Metro works to fix safety issues. (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Following the latest Metro smoke and fire incident, a local official said it could happen again.

“Metro has serious problems — the infrastructure, the maintenance, the finances,” said Metro Board Chairman and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans. “If we do nothing, if we don’t address this, then it will continue to have problems. The system is wearing out. As it wears out, we have more of these incidents.”

The Federal Transit Administration is investigating Saturday’s track fire near the Friendship Heights station.

A metro spokesman tells WTOP that electrical arcing of an insulator is likely the cause, although it’s unclear if the issue involves a faulty jumper cable.

Those jumper cables were a focus of a 29-hour metro shutdown in March, which resulted in the discovery of 27 defects. The deadly smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza is believed to have been caused by damaged jumper cables.

Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner said electrical arcing is a serious and pervasive problem: “We are talking about a lot of water, a lot of cable, and apparently a lot of cable that is not insulated properly.”

On Saturday, smoke filled the Red Line tunnel and an outbound train returned to the Tenleytown station. Riders were moved onto the platform. Service was disrupted for hours because of track and train inspections.

Evans wants to know if Metro personnel followed policy and whether there was miscommunication in the tunnel.

“We drill for this all the time,” Evans said. “Did we follow the protocols? Was it another panic situation? And if so, why? I’m very concerned about the safety of the passengers.”

Berliner plans to speak directly with Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld about Saturday’s incident. The infrastructure issues may take time, he said, but the communication issues must be addressed immediately.

A few weeks ago, Metro’s rail system turned 40. Evans said there’s a laundry list of maintenance issues that have been neglected for decades.

“It wont be fine,” Evans said. “Until this region finally gets it through their head that this system needs a real, real overhaul, then we’re going to continue to have incidents like this.”

He is calling on Congress to provide $300 million to balance the budget and a dedicated regional funding source of $1 billion per year for capital investments, including a new Rosslyn tunnel that will cost $3.5 billion.

House Republicans say they will not bail out the system. They blame the problems on poor management.

“I just hope that I’m not falling on deaf ears,” Evans said. “And I’m afraid I am. “

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