Officials at D.C.’s transit agency didn’t shut off power to the subway’s electric third rail until 44 minutes after heavy smoke was reported coming from one of its tunnels, preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board reveal.
The smoke filled a train that was stopped in the tunnel near L'Enfant Plaza station Monday, and affected another train stopped on the platform, officials confirmed Friday. One person died and 86 others were taken to hospitals.
In a preliminary report released by the NTSB on Friday, investigators say that officials at Metro’s operations center turned on ventilation fans at 3:16 p.m., one minute after one of the trains stopped in a tunnel filled with smoke.
According to the report, an electrical breaker at one end of the electric third rail was tripped, causing “severe electrical arcing damage” to the rail and cables inside the tunnel. Electricity continued to flow through the rail until 3:50 p.m., when officials finally cut the power.
Also Thursday, a Metro passenger filed the first lawsuit following the incident, claiming that the transit agency was negligent in maintenance and inspection of the rail system, and in its response time.
A timeline released by officials in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday shows that passengers were still calling for help in the smoke-filled train cars nearly 30 minutes after the smoke was initially reported to officials.
Investigators say that they will be reviewing track maintenance records and inspection reports, as well as reports of previous incidents that may have produced smoke. The agency will also review employee training records and evacuation plans.
The full investigation into the cause of the incident could take up to a year, officials have said.
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