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NTSB: Metro Policies 'Reprehensible' and 'Disturbing'

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released its long-awaited report on the real cause of the Metro system’s fatal incident in January 2015. Citing the subway’s long history of failing to learn from prior disasters, one NTSB member called Metro’s operational failures a “severe learning disability” and said the organization’s management “. . . have not been willing to learn from prior events.”

The tragic train disaster took place at L’Enfant Plaza station in Washington, D.C. when an electrical malfunction involving defective power cables generated a massive amount of smoke, filling up the tunnel. A Metro car was forced to stop and the car immediately began filling up with the noxious smoke. Passengers attempted to escape by opening the train’s doors. This led controllers to cut the power off. With power now cut, the train could not back up, leaving passengers trapped.  

As the smoke billowed into the train, commuters were gasping for air. Poorly trained controllers compounded the problem by turning on the remote control ventilation fans in the tunnel, pushing the smoke and fumes into the train instead of away from it. Metro personnel also delayed notification of emergency responders for 15 minutes, leaving victims stranded in the train for more than a half an hour.

Almost 100 people were transported to area hospitals to be treated for injuries. A 61-year-old mother and grandmother died from respiratory failure caused by smoke inhalation. She was the 15th fatality on the Metro in seven years.

In its scathing report, the NTSB cites Metro’s failure time and time again of ignoring the safety of its passengers. For example, the board reports, that Metro often sent trains filled with passengers into tunnels when there were reports of fires or smoke in order for train operators to investigate. Although this was not what happened in the L’Enfant Plaza tragedy, it routinely occurred, despite the practice being one that supposedly violated Metro’s own policy.

The board, whose members referred to Metro’s operational policies as “reprehensible” and “disturbing,” also cited inoperative smoke detectors in the tunnels, poor tunnel and railcar ventilation, and poor oversight and management of the system. All of these have led to the wrongful deaths of more than a dozen passengers and workers since 2009, as well as leaving countless victims injured.

It is incomprehensible that there are more regulations in place for trains transporting freight than there are for the Metro, but it is that government laxness, as well as the corporate mindset cited by the NTSB, which puts passengers and workers in danger every day. If you have suffered a serious personal injury or suffered the death of a family member in a Subway, Metro or railroad accident, contact a Virginia wrongful death attorney today.

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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