DC - 27 Stuck on Metrorail Train for Two Hours

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27 Stuck On Metrorail Train

June 21, 2000

Twenty-seven people were stuck for two hours in a Metrorail train last night on the Green Line because of fire and smoke. The train was stuck between Prince George's Plaza and College Park. Metro officials say three people were treated for smoke inhalation. Metro went to "single tracking", which means trains in both directions shared one track, so that all Green Line service would not be disrupted.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), June 21, 2000


June 21, 2000

4 treated for smoke in latest Metro fire By Jim Keary THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A fire in a Metro tunnel forced the evacuation of at least 30 riders last night just hours after subway system officials replaced the top manager of its Operations Control Center.

Four passengers suffered smoke inhalation in the fire, which occurred about 9:15 p.m. after the train struck a metal door from an air shaft or a fire box located along the tracks about a half mile away from the College Park station, Prince George's Fire Department spokesman Capt. Chauncy Bowers said.

More than 30 passengers were stranded for nearly two hours in the train while firefighters doused the flames and emergency officials tried to figure out how to rescue them. At first, emergency crews planned to take the passengers through a ventilation shaft, but decided to put passengers on a rescue train, Capt. Bowers said. "People were there for quite some time. They had to get the emergency equipment down there first," Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said. One rider said people in the train were "fairly calm" during the incident. Four stations  Greenbelt, College Park-University of Maryland, Prince George's Plaza and West Hyattsville  were closed until 11:30 p.m. The disabled train remained in the tunnel.

"Except for smoke, the fire did not harm the inside of the train," spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said. Three of the passengers who suffered smoke inhalation  including one who has asthma  were taken off the train on stretchers, hooked up to oxygen, and transported to Prince George's Hospital Center, Mr. Feldmann said. The fourth was treated at the scene. Just hours before this latest in a string of fires in the subway system, Metro replaced the top manager of its Operations Control Center after reports in The Washington Times about controllers causing a runaway train last month and directing a train into a tunnel fire in April. The incidents have focused attention on Metro's safety policies, which some Metro workers said are often ignored by controllers, who manage the operations of the subway system. "If it was an air-traffic-control center, you would not be safe in the air or on the ground," a Metro employee said of the Operations Control Center.

An internal Metro memorandum from Aubrey Burton, general superintendent of the Office of Rail Transportation, notes that Assistant General Superintendent W. Mark Miller replaced control center Superintendent Phillip Kyler on Monday. The memo says Mr. Miller will manage the control center, while Mr. Kyler's new duties are not clear. A spokesman said Mr. Kyler will remain superintendent of the control center but will report to Mr. Miller. In addition, James T. Gallagher, assistant deputy general manager of operations, now oversees both rail and bus operations. Bea Hicks, chief operating officer for rail services, and Jack Requa, chief operating officer for bus services, will report to Mr. Gallagher. "Both of these changes are designed to shore up weaknesses we have discovered since the April 20 fire. It is designed to provide additional layers of management and oversight that will result in strong operations in the rail area," Mr. Feldmann said. Of last night's rescue on the Green Line, he added: "Compared to the April 20 incident, it went a lot smoother." The Times first reported that control center controllers and supervisors violated safety rules during the April 20 subway tunnel fire at the Foggy Bottom station and a runaway subway train near the Dupont Circle station on May 26.

Metro safety chief Fred Goodine last week said he is investigating the Operations Control Center (OCC) procedures during those incidents, adding that he is reviewing the qualifications, training and certifications of control center personnel. Metro employees say many controllers lack experience working on the subway and are poorly trained. In the past, controllers were selected from Metrorail supervisors who had worked their way up through the ranks as train operators. In recent years, controllers have been hired with little or no rail or supervisory experience. Sources also said some controllers have had to be tested repeatedly to be certified to remain in their jobs. Mr. Feldmann said any information about the controllers' certifications would have to be requested in writing. In his memo, Mr. Burton said the control center staff must be stretched to manage emergencies while keeping the subway system running. "This requires the overall coordination of the activities of all OCC personnel, and providing timely updates to media relations and senior management of the status of incidents," the Burton memo reads. "In order to provide more management/supervisory coverage in the OCC control room for emergency operations, I am realigning the . . . management staff." During the April 20 tunnel fire, a controller ordered a train operator to investigate a reported fire by taking her passenger- filled train into a smoke-filled tunnel, The Times reported. The train was stranded inside the tunnel for four hours when power to trains was interrupted by the fire.

What's more, controllers violated Metro's safety rules by failing to immediately call the D.C. fire department when the fire was first reported. Fire department dispatchers contacted Metro 15 minutes after the blaze was discovered, notified by stranded passengers using their cellular telephones to call for help. The Times also reported that Metro's safety rules were violated during a May 26 incident involving a runaway passenger train. During that incident a train was disabled between Woodley Park-Zoo and Dupont Circle Metrorail stations and a second train was sent into the tunnels to move it. The rescue train was ordered to couple on the uphill side of the disabled train, which violates the safety rules that require any coupling to disabled trains to be downhill from the train. When the brakes were released from the disabled train, it was not coupled and rolled out of control for about 50 yards with passengers onboard. The two train operators involved were suspended. On June 9, Ms. Hicks told The Times that, although Metro's safety rules were violated, no one in the control center was being disciplined. She said control center personnel can make decisions that conflict with the safety rules.

Mr. Feldmann responded three days later that she was wrong and that safety rules should always be followed.  Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 23, 2000.

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