Press Releases

Sen. Warner Demands Briefing on WMATA Metro Safety & Training Protocols

~ “Passengers deserve assurance that Metro, first responders are trained to react” ~

Jan 13 2015

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today demanded information on Metro safety and safety protocols following Monday’s fatal incident at the L’Enfant Plaza station which resulted in the death of one passenger and injuries to scores of others. Accounts from passengers and witnesses portray a chaotic situation in which passengers were trapped for more than thirty minutes in smoke-filled Metro cars only a few hundred feet from a Metro station platform before first responders allowed them to evacuate.        

“While the National Transportation Safety Board investigation is just getting underway and may require months to complete, Virginians are climbing back aboard Metro trains today,” Sen. Warner said. “Metro passengers deserve to know as soon as possible about Metro’s safety protocols for this type of incident, and those answers should be provided right away.”   

Sen. Warner’s letter to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Richard Sarles can be accessed here, and the text follows:

January 13, 2015


Richard Sarles

General Manager and Chief Executive Officer

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

600 5th St. NW

Washington, DC. 20001

Dear Mr. Sarles,

Virginians and others who use the Washington Metro system are alarmed and troubled by yesterday’s fatal incident on a Metro train at L’Enfant Plaza station that left one passenger dead, two critically injured and over 80 hospitalized. I know you have been committed to re-establishing WMATA’s culture of safety since joining WMATA following a tragic and fatal accident in 2009 at Takoma Park, Maryland. However, yesterday’s incident raises significant concerns about WMATA’s ability to anticipate, train for and effectively respond to incident impacting public safety. 

For those who use the Metro system on a daily basis, yesterday’s tragic events represent a nightmare situation in which passengers were left in the dark, breathing potentially  toxic smoke and fumes, for close to one hour before first responders allowed an evacuation. While the incident currently is under investigation by a team from the National Transportation Safety Board, the circumstances reported by dozens of passengers and witnesses are disturbing.  

Many passengers note that they were told by the Metro train operator to remain in the cars as those cars filled with smoke, even though the train was only a few hundred feet from the L’Enfant Plaza station platform. Other passengers and witnesses report it took first responders more than 40 minutes to reach the train and evacuate passengers. In the meantime, several passengers can be seen on amateur video choking and vomiting, and several reportedly lost consciousness. Passengers and witnesses also reported a chaotic situation at the station with little evidence of WMATA employees operating under established protocols or implementing training procedures that should have been self-evident from preparations made for this type of event. 

I understand that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now beginning a thorough and comprehensive investigation of yesterday’s incident which limits your ability to discuss the events in detail.  However, general training and coordination procedures are clearly at issue here, and I therefore request a full briefing as soon as possible to provide me with information on the following issues: 

  • What is WMATA protocol for responding to an incident such as this, involving smoke and/or fire, particularly in underground tunnels away from a Metro station? What are the passenger evacuation procedures in this type of incident? 
  • What is the extent and frequency of training for WMATA personnel pertaining to emergencies such as this?  When was the most recent training exercise for WMATA personnel related to the type of incident that occurred yesterday? Is training conducted jointly with appropriate local response first response agencies?
  • What are established protocols for coordination with, and communication between, local law enforcement and other first responders in the event of this type of occurrence? 
  • During what situations are passengers allowed, or even encouraged, to self-evacuate in the absence of a timely arrival of first responders? 

The safety of our public transit system is a top priority for me and others. Here in Congress, the National Capitol Region delegation has fought hard for each annual installment of a ten year, $1.5 billion commitment to provide WMATA with the resources to make safety improvements and upgrade its infrastructure. With that ongoing financial commitment, we demand assurances that safety of the Metro system is indeed improving. Commuters and visitors to D.C. deserve no less.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly so that a briefing can be scheduled.