NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD
Public Meeting of May 3, 2016
(Information subject to editing)
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) LaEnfant Plaza Station
Electrical Arcing and Smoke Accident,
January 12, 2015
This is a synopsis from the NTSBas report and does not include the Boardas rationale for
the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations. NTSB staff is currently making
final revisions to the report from which the attached conclusions and safety recommendations
have been extracted. The final report and pertinent safety recommendation letters will be
distributed to recommendation recipients as soon as possible. The attached information is subject
to further review and editing to reflect changes adopted during the Board meeting.
On January 12, 2015, at 3:15 p.m. eastern standard time, Washington Metropolitan Area
Transit Authority (WMATA) southbound Yellow Line train 302, with about 380 passengers on
board, stopped after encountering heavy smoke in the tunnel between the LaEnfant Plaza station
and the Potomac River bridge in Washington, DC. The operator of train 302 told the Rail
Operations Control Center (ROCC) that the train was filling with smoke and he needed to return
to the station. The WMATA ROCC allowed train 510, following train 302, to enter the LaEnfant
Plaza station, which also was filling with smoke. Train 302 was unable to return to the station
before power to the electrified third rail, which supplied the trainas propulsion power, was lost.
Some passengers on train 302 evacuated the train on their own, and others were assisted in
evacuating by first responders from the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical
Services Department (FEMS). As a result of the accident, 91 people were injured, including
passengers, emergency responders, and WMATA employees, and one passenger died. WMATA
estimated the total damages to be $120,000.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been concerned with the safety of
the WMATA rail system since 1970, when it conducted a special study of the proposed transit
rail system while it was still under construction. The resulting report, NTSB/RSS-70/1, Study of
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authorityas Safety Procedures for the Proposed Metro
System, resulted in one safety recommendation to WMATA to adevelop the capability within
WMATA for system safety engineering and apply system safety principles to all aspects of the
proposed [rail] system to identify, assess, and correct those deficiencies identified by the
analysis.a This accident is the 13th WMATA rail accident investigated by the NSTB since
WMATA rail began operation in 1976. The NTSB has issued 101 safety recommendations to
WMATA since 1970.
The investigation of this accident revealed a range of safety issues and conditions at
WMATA that illustrate the transit organizationas lack of a safety culture:
WMATA response to smoke report. A smoke detector near the location of the
heavy smoke activated at 3:04 p.m. but was not displayed at the Rail Operations
Control Center (ROCC) because of a loose wire that prevented communication with
the Advanced Information Management System. Other nearby smoke detectors
activated later, and those were displayed at the ROCC, but WMATA had no
procedures for response to smoke detector activations. WMATAas standard operating
procedure states that at the first report of smoke, all trains should be stopped in both
directions, but this did not happen on the day of the accident. Instead, the ROCC told
the operator of a train carrying revenue passengers to look for smoke, which was
WMATAas routine response to reports of smoke or fire.
Tunnel ventilation. The WMATA station and tunnel ventilation systems were
designed in the 1970s when no industry standard existed for emergency ventilations
for subway transit systems. The systems were designed for heat removal and
temperature control, not for emergency smoke removal. Over the years since
WMATA began operation, several studies have identified the need for emergency
smoke removal and have recommended increasing the capacity of ventilation fans.
Investigators learned that control operators in the ROCC were not trained on
strategies for configuring station and tunnel ventilation fans, and therefore, on the day
of the accident, the under-platform fans in the LaEnfant Plaza station were turned on
in exhaust mode, blanketing train 302 in smoke and pulling smoke into the station.
Railcar ventilation. WMATA did not instruct train operators how to shut down the
railcar ventilation systems because there was no written procedure. In addition,
operators had to ask the ROCC for permission to shut them down, and then the
ROCC provided the specific steps to the train operators. However, those steps did not
shut down all the ventilation systems on all the cars immediately. Therefore, on the
day of the accident, smoke was pulled into most of the railcars on train 302 through
the fresh air intakes.
Emergency response: On the day of the accident, the District of Columbia Office of
Unified Communications, which maintains the 911 emergency call system, was slow
in processing the first 911 call reporting the smoke. First responders reported that
when they arrived at the LaEnfant Plaza station, they were directed to the wrong
tunnel to look for train 302. Evacuating passengers reported that egress through the
tunnel was difficult because of dim lighting and obstacles along the safety walkway.
The FEMS incident commander appeared to ignore the WMATA Metro Transit
Police incident commander and did not take into account the multiple agencies
involved in the response and the consequent need for elevation to a
Unified Command structure.
Oversight and Management: In the years since the 2009 accident at Fort Totten,
substantial improvements have not been made, and many of the same safety
management deficiencies remain today. The Tri-State Oversight Committee has
lacked sufficient resources, technical capacity, and enforcement authority to provide
the level of oversight needed to ensure safety at WMATA. The TOC also has not met
the requirements of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act
(MAP-21) that was enacted in 2012,. This accident also identified deficiencies in the
safety oversight of WMATA by the Federal Transit Administration.
As a result of this accident, the NTSB issues safety recommendations to the Federal
Transit Administration, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia Office of
Unified Communications, the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services
Department, the National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council, and the Washington
Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Electrical arc tracking was aided by the presence of contaminants and moisture on third rail
cables and inside cable connector assemblies.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authorityas third rail electrical power cable
systems are susceptible to electrical arc tracking at improperly constructed power cable
connector assemblies, which can lead to short circuits that can generate fire and smoke in
The electrical short circuit initiated from either the consumed or the damaged cable
Intrusion of water at the electrical arcing site contributed to the severity of the accident.
The electrical arcing that resulted in the consumption of the cables that were resting against
the tunnel wall was the origin of the smoke at the accident location.
Including leak inspections with WMATA tunnel structural inspections was not effective in
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority tunnel repair program was not
effective in mitigating recurring water intrusion like that found in the southbound Yellow
Water intrusion into the Yellow Line tunnel south of LaEnfant Plaza predated the adjacent
construction of the Wharf project, and therefore the construction was not a factor in the
initiation of the electrical arcing.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority did not have a written procedure for
operating ventilation fans in response to smoke and fire events in a tunnel.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority did not have effective training on the
proper operation of tunnel ventilation fans.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority failed to address the capacity
problems of the ventilation system that were identified by engineering studies.
Had the maintenance procedures in place at the time of the accident been followed
correctly, the fault in the remote control of the fans could have been identified and
corrected during the scheduled monthly inspection.
The conditions discovered after the accidentathe inability to execute remote commands to
the tunnel ventilation system, the tripped overload breakers, the defective remote terminal
unit card, and the deficient automatic transfer switch, automatic voltage regulator, and
motor control centeraresulted from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authorityas
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority did not comply with its ventilation
fan inspection and maintenance procedures.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority was not following its tunnel-washing
and insulator-cleaning procedure.
At the time of the accident the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority did not
have a procedure for train operators to follow that would immediately shut down the
ventilation systems on all the railcars in a train.
When the operator of train 302 shut down the ventilation system, only the ventilation
system on the leading railcar shut down immediately, and the ventilation systems of all the
other railcars remained operational.
The requirement for a train operator to receive permission from the Rail Operations Control
Center to shut down the ventilation systems on a train, and the lack of a procedure for
shutting down all the ventilation systems on a train from the lead railcar, contributed to the
smoke entering the railcars in train 302.
The Rail Operations Control Center supervisor failed to ensure that the emergency
procedures contained in Standard Operating Procedure #6 were followed by the control
Had the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority followed its standard operating
procedures and stopped all trains at the first report of smoke, train 302 would not have been
trapped in the smoke-filled tunnel.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority put passengers at risk by routinely
using trains with revenue passengers to investigate reports of smoke or fire.
The Rail Operations Control Center supervisor failed to ensure that all trains in both
directions were stopped after smoke was reported, which was inconsistent with the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority standard operating procedure.
Rail Operations Control Center supervisors and control operators were not proficient in
executing emergency response procedures.
the Public Service Radio System communication problems were identified but not
remediated before the accident.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authorityas radio-testing procedure in place at
the time of the accident was insufficient to identify Public Service Radio System
communication problems in a timely manner.
Communications between the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services
Department (FEMS) liaison in the Rail Operations Control Center and the FEMS incident
commander were delayed and inefficient.
The District of Columbia Office of Unified Communicationsa call processing delayed the
emergency response to the accident.
Without line identification and direction signage at tunnel entrances and in tunnels,
emergency response personnel may have difficulty navigating, which may delay their
The lack of emergency lighting in the tunnel and the conduit and junction boxes on the
tunnel wall above the walkway were safety hazards to passengers evacuating through the
The lack of safety standards or regulation addressing emergency evacuation routes,
including design and lighting, led to obstructed and poorly illuminated walkways at the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that increased the risk of injury to people
evacuating train 302 in the Yellow Line tunnel.
The lack of formal training criteria for the battalion chief position may pose unnecessary
risk with respect to incidents requiring the incident command process.
The incident commander had not been effectively trained in the skills and practices of the
incident command process.
The incident commander
Unified Command structure.
In the initial phase of the emergency response, the incident commander did not take
appropriate immediate action to provide emergency assistance to passengers on train 302.
Quarterly emergency response drills, particularly those in tunnels, would better prepare
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and local emergency
response agencies to respond to emergencies on the WMATA system.
The District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department was
unprepared to respond to a mass casualty event in the Washington Metropolitan Area
Transit Authorityas underground system.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority missed the opportunity to improve its
emergency response and procedures by not conducting an after-action review of its
emergency response to the accident.
Despite its new authorities under the Fixing Americaas Surface Transportation Act, the
Federal Transit Administration still lacks sufficient authority, expertise, and resources to
assume temporary, direct safety oversight of rail transit agencies.
The structure of the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) Executive Committee and its
failure to effectively guide the TOC reduced the ability of the TOC to execute efficient and
effective safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The projected establishment of the Metro Safety Commission will be delayed by the
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has not effectively used past safety
investigations, recommendations, and studies to make lasting changes that become
incorporated into its organizational safety culture.
Although the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has taken steps to improve
its organizational safety since the 2009 Fort Totten accident, significant safety management
deficiencies still exist within the organization.
Had the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority effectively used its existing
quality assurance program, it would have identified problems such as missing sealing
sleeves and procedure non-compliance.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) LaEnfant Plaza station electrical
arcing and smoke accident was a prolonged short circuit that consumed power system
components resulting from the WMATAas ineffective inspection and maintenance practices. The
ineffective practices persisted as the result of (1) the failure of WMATA senior management to
proactively assess and mitigate foreseeable safety risks, and (2) the inadequate safety oversight
by the Tri-State Oversight Committee and the Federal Transit Administration. Contributing to
the accident were WMATAas failure to follow established procedures and the District of
Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Departmentas being unprepared to respond to a
mass casualty event on the WMATA underground system.
To the Federal Transit Administration:
1. Issue regulatory standards for tunnel infrastructure inspection, maintenance, and repair,
incorporating applicable industry consensus standards into those standards.
2. Issue regulatory safety standards for emergency egress in tunnel environments.
To the mayor of the District of Columbia:
3. Convene an independent panel of experts to (1) assess the District of Columbia Fire
and Emergency Medical Services Departmentas preparedness to respond to mass
casualty events in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
underground system, (2) identify and make recommendations to improve this
preparedness, and (3) share the findings of that assessment with the other local
jurisdictions with WMATA underground systems.
To the District of Columbia Office of Unified Communications:
4. Audit your public service answering point (PSAP) to validate compliance with the
standards published by the National Emergency Number Association or another
similar standards organization. The audit should (1) determine the average length of
time that call takers use to process an emergency call and dispatch emergency service
and (2) compare those results with those of other comparable PSAPs.
5. Upon completion of action satisfying Safety Recommendation R-16-XX, develop
call-processing standards for the public service answering point (PSAP) to ensure that
911 calls are processed in accordance with those of other comparable PSAPs.
6. Train call takers for the public service answering point on the standards developed in
Safety Recommendation R-16-XX and include the standards in recurrent training.
To the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department:
7. Implement measures to train all command officers who will serve in the role of
incident commander in the skills and practices of National Incident Management
System incident command and unified command processes. This training should
include regular refresher training.
To the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority:
8. Review and revise your tunnel inspection, maintenance, and repair procedures to
mitigate water intrusion into tunnels.
9. When the revision of tunnel inspection, maintenance, and repair procedures
recommended in Safety Recommendation R-16-XX has been completed, train
maintenance employees on the new procedures, and ensure that the procedures are
10. Improve the capacity of tunnel ventilation fans to conform to the requirements of
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 130.
11. Develop location-specific emergency ventilation configurations based on engineering
studies of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority tunnel ventilation
12. Develop and implement procedures for actions to be taken by Rail Operations Control
Center personnel when smoke detectors alarm.
13. Once action to address Safety Recommendation R-16-XX is completed, train all Rail
Operations Control Center personnel on the new procedures for responding to smoke
alarms. This training should include regular refresher training.
14. Incorporate smoke alarms in periodic emergency drills and exercises.
15. Include in your efficiency testing program (rules compliance testing program) a
specific test to ensure appropriate emergency actions are taken by Rail Operations
Control Center supervisors and control operators in response to an alarm.
16. Install and maintain a system that will detect the presence and location of fire and
smoke throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority tunnel and
17. Develop procedures for regular testing of all smoke detectors.
18. Conduct a risk assessment before any preventive maintenance program is initiated,
changed or discontinued.
19. Ensure that all train operators are trained and regularly tested on the appropriate
procedure for emergency shutdown of railcar ventilation.
20. Incorporate a specific test in your efficiency testing program to ensure that train
operators understand the procedure for emergency shutdown of railcar ventilation.
21. Revise Standard Operating Procedure #6 to clarify which trains should be stopped
until the source of smoke is identified.
22. Revise your standard operating procedures to require that: (1) suitably trained,
qualified, and properly equipped personnel investigate reports of wayside fire or
smoke, and (2) these reports are not investigated using trains with revenue
23. Review and revise as necessary your ROCC emergency response procedures for
smoke and fire.
24. Retrain Rail Operations Control Center supervisors on all standard operating
procedures for emergencies.
25. Develop and incorporate a comprehensive program for training Rail Operations
Control Center control operators in emergency response procedures including regular
26. Conduct regular emergency response drills and develop a program to test the
efficiency of the Rail Operations Control Center to ensure that standard operating
procedures are properly followed during emergencies.
27. Install line identification and direction signage at tunnel entrances and inside tunnels.
28. Implement a regular schedule for the inspection and removal of obstructions from
safety walkways and track-bed floors to ensure safe passageways for passengers to
use during a tunnel evacuation.
29. Conduct emergency response drills with local emergency response agencies in
accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 130, document lessons
learned, and develop and implement additional procedures as necessary to effectively
respond to emergencies.
30. Revise your standard operating procedures to require that an after-action review be
conducted of all emergency responses to events with passenger or employee fatalities,
and publish the results, including both the successes and the potential deficiencies of
your responses, to help ensure that deficiencies are appropriately remediated.
31. Review and revise your quality assurance program to ensure that regular quality
assurance audits are included to identify and correct any elements of procedural
Previously Issued Recommendations
To the US Department of Transportation:
Seek an amendment to Title 45 United States Code Section 1104(3) to list the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as a commuter authority, thus
authorizing the Federal Railroad Administration to exercise regulatory oversight of the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authorityas rail system. (Open - Unacceptable
After Title 45 United States Code Section 1104(3) is amended to include the Washington
Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, direct the Administrator of the Federal Railroad
Administration to develop and implement a plan to transition the oversight of the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authorityas rail system to the Federal Railroad
Administration within 6 months. (Open - Unacceptable Response)
To the Federal Transit Administration:
Audit all rail transit agencies that have subway tunnel environments to assess (1) the state
of good repair of tunnel ventilation systems, (2) written emergency procedures for fire
and smoke events, (3) training programs to ensure compliance with these procedures, and
(4) verify that rail transit agencies are applying industry best standards, such as NFPA
130, Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems, in maintenance
procedures and emergency procedures. (Open - Acceptable Response)
To the American Public Transportation Association:
Inform your members of the circumstances of this accident and the risks posed by
inadequate written procedures for ventilation processes during smoke and fire events in a
tunnel environment. Urge your members to assess their procedures for verifying
consistency with industry best practices, such as those outlined in the National Fire
Protection Associationas NFPA 130, Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and
Passenger Rail Systems.( Closed - Acceptable Action)
Urge your members to conduct regular training exercises that use written ventilation
procedures to provide ample opportunities for employees and emergency responders to
practice those procedures. (Closed-Acceptable Action)
To the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority:
Assess your subway tunnel ventilation system to verify the state of good repair and
compliance with industry best practices and standards, such as those outlined in the
National Fire Protection Associationas NFPA 130, Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit
and Passenger Rail Systems. (Open-Acceptable Response)
Develop and implement detailed written tunnel ventilation procedures for operations
control center staff that take into account the probable source location of smoke and fire,
the location of the train, the best evacuation route, and unique infrastructure features;
these procedures should be based on the most effective strategy for fan direction and
activation to limit passengersa exposure to smoke. (Open-Acceptable Response)
As part of the implementation of the procedures developed in response to Safety
Recommendation R-15-009, incorporate the use of the procedures into your ongoing
training and exercise programs and ensure that operations control center staff and
emergency responders have ample opportunities to learn and practice activating
ventilation fans. (Open-Acceptable Response)
Promptly develop and implement a program to ensure that all power cable connector
assemblies are properly constructed and installed in accordance with your engineering
design specifications, including the weather tight seals that prevent intrusion by
contaminants and moisture. (Open-Acceptable Response)