The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets and the Subcommittee on Government Operations held a hearing to examine safety gaps that led to emergency incidents, including the January 12, 2015 incident involving the evacuation of passengers trapped in a smoke-filled Metrorail train.
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (P.L. 110-432) required Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to have operational wireless service throughout the entire Metro system by October 2012. This deadline has been extended for several years. At today’s hearing, WMATA committed to getting an updated timeline to the Committee. Audio of an emergency call placed by trapped passengers was played during the hearing. The audio illustrates the unreliable cellular system and the inability of passengers to adequately convey emergency incidents. [AUDIO of 911CALL]
Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee Chairman John Mica’s (FL-07) opening statement:
EXCERPTS: “About 200 million people a year use the Metrorail system. Anyone who rides metro should know that it is safe and secure.”
“It shouldn’t take a disaster to have plans in place for any contingency. There are some things we know, and some things we are learning”.
“I think everyone who has looked at this to date has said that the response could and should have been much better.”
Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows’ (NC-11) opening statement:
EXCERPTS: “I can say that really… we need to use this safety event as a wakeup call not just because of the tragic nature of this safety event, but also to go further in terms of what we need to do to make sure it is properly funded, properly maintained, and properly operated each and every day.”
“I put out on Twitter, ‘Give me your recommendations…what do you think? I didn’t realize how active the Twitter response would be. I am going to read three Twitter responses… and this is indicative of a plethora of others we have’.”
“I have been commuting for 16 years (federal worker), lack of accountability, poor management, info, general attitude of not caring.”
“Increased fares for decreased service- fire on train. Twitter being more reliable for info than WMATA.”
“Thanks for asking. Main problems: fare hikes without improvements, safety hazards, and a lack of communication.”
Assistant Fire Chief Edward Mills testified about the lack of communication and coordination between WMATA and Washington, D.C. Fire Department. He stated that:
“Within eight minutes of dispatch, seven FEMS units and one MPD unit were at L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station providing assistance. I also want to emphasize that at this point, FEMS responders did not know there was a Metro train filled with about 200 passengers stopped in the tunnel. The only information they had received at this point was there was heavy smoke in the Metro Station.”
Jonathan Rogers, a passenger aboard the trapped Metrorail car on January 12, 2015, stated that:
“At no point were we ever told we would be evacuating and walking back to the platform. A line moving toward the back of the train seemed to form on its own.”