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L'Enfant Plaza Metro Incident: What Went Wrong?

By: Allan M. Siegel

At the start of rush hour on Monday, dozens of passengers were injured after a DC Metro train and L'Enfant Plaza station filled with smoke. The scene, according to passengers and witnesses, was one of chaos and fear. Many believed they were going to die, and unfortunately, one Virginia woman did lose her life. More than 80 others were sent to area hospitals.

DC Metro Investigation

While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating what happened Monday afternoon, there are a few things that have come to light about the incident, as well as speculations about what went wrong.

Here are some important points about what we know so far:

  • An "electrical arcing event" may have been the cause - The NTSB announced that the incident appears to have been caused by what is known as an "arcing" event, which occurs when something comes into contact with the high-voltage third rail. Although this is still being investigated, it is possible that the arcing event was caused by a preventable issue that allowed electrical current to escape, such as deteriorated cables or poorly maintained insulators.
  • Emergency evacuation protocol has been criticized - Following the incident Monday, reports of criticism of the evacuation protocol began to appear. A former chairman of the NTSB publicly announced his concerns about the time it took to evacuate passengers and commuters themselves have spoken to the media about poor coordination and poorly managed evacuation. Moving forward, investigators will likely analyze the emergency protocol in place and determine if it was properly followed.
  • There's a need to improve transit safety - NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart announced on Tuesday that the incident at L'Enfant Plaza station highlights the need to improve mass transit safety. On Tuesday, the NTSB also released its annual wish list for improving transportation safety in the U.S. One item on the list related specifically to transit and rail safety.
  • The investigation will take time - While Monday's incident is still fresh in our minds and is receiving widespread coverage, it will likely take some time before we have any definitive answers about what happened and what exactly went wrong. The NTSB investigation could take months to complete, but DC commuters deserve to know these answers as soon as possible, especially when it comes the safety of Metro railcars and safety protocol in place.

Our law firm has represented victims in almost every major train incident that has occurred in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area in the last 18 years. We have also successfully litigated cases against Metro for decades. If you have questions about train accidents or Monday's Metro incident at L'Enfant Plaza station, contact the lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.