On Friday, June 14, 2019 at 6:52 PM EDT, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Special Green Line Train 550 while operating in passenger service as a baseball supplemental train enroute to Anacostia, reported a trackside fire five hundred and seventy-six feet outside of and while in approach to L’Enfant Plaza. Following reporting the fire the train operator exited the train and extinguished the fire with the use of two fire extinguishers from aboard the train. The Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) while attempting to follow procedures put in place following a fatal track fire incident in January 2015 left train 550 holding for fourteen minutes at the vicinity of the reported fire, while holding and reversing several other trains in the vicinity, as shown in the timeline below.
The apparent source of the fire was an arcing rail fastener.
Our concern is that while following procedures, in this incident the ROCC left a passenger filled train holding for fourteen minutes, despite repeated requests from the train operator to move the train (a repeat from the 2015 incident); without knowing the source of the fire at the time, had the fire flared back up the train risked the possibility of becoming stranded in the event of loss of third rail traction power.
The primarily concern of the ROCC upon notification of a smoke/fire incident should be to remove passengers and employees as quickly as possible from the area in the safest manner, which in this case would have been to allow Train 550 to continue on to L’Enfant Plaza after the fire was extinguished.
Also of concern is that this incident occurred prior to a major event (a home baseball game), and while the ROCC was holding and reversing trains, the outbound platform at L’Enfant Plaza (less than six hundred feet from the incident) continued to receive more passengers complicating a potential station evacuation should one have been needed.
Below is a timeline of key events during the incident:
6:52PM Train 550 stops in approach to L’Enfant Plaza and reports small track fire
6:54PM Train 505 servicing Archives enroute to Branch Av is instructed to offload
6:55PM Train 514 in approach to L’Enfant Plaza enroute to Greenbelt is instructed to stop
6:56PM Train 550 operator reports fire has been extinguished and requests to pull into L’Enfant Plaza and is told to standby two minutes later
7:00PM Train 550 operator is again told to standby by the ROCC in regards to moving the train
7:01PM Train 505 that has been holding at Archives behind Train 550 for seven minutes is instructed to reverse operating ends and at 7:04PM receives permission to reverse back to Gallery Place platform
7:01PM Train 310, a Yellow Line train approaching L’Enfant Plaza enroute to Greenbelt is instructed to stop and reverse direction back to Pentagon station, and receives permission to move at 7:06PM
7:02PM Train 514 that had been holding in approach to L’Enfant Plaza on the Greenbelt track for seven minutes is instructed to reverse operating ends back to Waterfront, the train receives permission to move at 7:05PM, ten minutes after its initial stop, at 7:11PM Train 514 continues to Navy Yard and is instructed to go back in service towards Branch Av
7:02PM Train 550 operator reports tracks are clear and again requests permission to pull into L’Enfant Plaza, 550 is told by the ROCC “upper management doesn’t want anything going in”
7:06PM Train 550 is instructed to reverse back to Archives after holding in place for fourteen minutes, and to offload at Archives which occurs at 7:09PM, Train 550 is then reversed back towards L’Enfant Plaza to perform a track inspection, which is reported to be clear, and Train 550 is instructed to go back in service at L’Enfant Plaza to Branch Av
7:15PM ROCC begins resumption of normal traffic flow
7:19PM Train 310 which originally was traveling towards Greenbelt and reversed in approach to L’Enfant Plaza back towards Pentagon is now instructed to reverse direction again back towards L’Enfant Plaza
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