Metrorail safety commission details ongoing safety investigations

As the investigation into the Oct. 12 derailment of a Blue Line train near Arlington National Cemetery continues, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission is releasing more information on previous incidents it is investigating.

During a commission meeting Tuesday, WMSC investigators went into detail on a March 26 incident involving a runaway train near the Rhode Island Avenue station.



According to the WMSC, the train first broke down shortly after leaving the station. Passengers were not evacuated for nearly 90 minutes, during which two passengers self-evacuated, including one when the third rail was still hot, which could have potentially led to severe or fatal injuries.

After passengers were safely evacuated from the train and onto the platform, workers began to decouple the cars when the train began moving and rolled more than 130 feet before an employee was able to stop it by pulling a handbrake.

“Metrorail did not formally report this runaway train event to us and the [Federal Transit Administration] as required until nearly two weeks after the event, following our continued investigation,” said WMSC investigation program manager Adam Quigley.

In addition to not reporting the incident, Quigley pointed to communication failures throughout the evacuation, and to a lack of adequate training for such a scenario.

The commission is also investigating an event from this past June, also at the Rhode Island station, when a train operator opened train doors on the opposite side from the platform. The train doors remained open for 8 seconds. The commission said this event was also not reported to them as required — instead, they were alerted to it through monitoring social media.

Quigley said the commission has since issued a number of corrective measures to Metro, which it is tracking though regular meetings and updates from the transit agency’s personnel.

During the meeting, the commission’s CEO, David Mayer, was asked if Metro had made any improvements that helped with its emergency response during the Blue Line derailment.

Mayer said that he would have to defer comment, and that the National Transportation Safety Board is studying Metro’s emergency response as part of its ongoing investigation.

“If there’s anything that we can do to learn from the events in the passenger evacuation during the NTSB investigation, we won’t wait for the close of the investigation to take appropriate action,” Mayer said.

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