Power Outages, Smoke and Fire Hit Metro, Streetcar Over Snowy Weekend

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Smoke and power outages plagued Metrorail the weekend of Feb. 20, while on the H Street corridor, a flash fire ignited atop a streetcar during service simulation late Feb. 21.

Problems started for commuters Friday morning when the power went out at the L’Enfant Plaza station, leaving hundreds of commuters in near-pitch-black dark. The outage occurred around 8:45 a.m., and power was not restored fully until the early afternoon. The station remained open during the outage, but the entrance at 9th and D streets NW remained closed until the lights came back on. Metro said in a tweet that the outage was caused by a “commercial power problem.” Feb. 20 was the coldest day of the year so far, with temperatures reaching as low as 5 degrees at Reagan National Airport.

Then, smoke caused delays and evacuations at three Metro stations over the weekend. Woodley Park Station was taken out of service briefly after faulty brakes reportedly filled the station with smoke on the afternoon of Feb. 21. The station was evacuated, with commuters rushing to escape a potentially life-threatening situation akin to the one that occurred at the L’Enfant station on Jan. 12.

Smoke caused by faulty brakes was also reported at the L’Enfant station Sunday. A D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department spokesman confirmed the source of the cause in a statement on Feb. 22.

Fire struck a streetcar around 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21. Officials said, “The sparks extinguished very quickly on their own and fire suppression was not required by the first responders on the scene.” No one was injured during the incident but Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a brief statement issued Sunday that D.C. Streetcar would not open to the public until “we know it’s safe, and not a moment sooner.” The as-of-yet not fully operational streetcar has had nine minor accidents since it began simulating service in Oct. 14, with the latest occurring in early January. No one has been harmed in any of the accidents.

Also on Sunday, smoke caused by an electrical arcing event in the third rail led emergency crews to the Foggy Bottom station around 6:30 p.m. A driver alerted authorities after noticing the smoke coming from the tunnel leading from Foggy Bottom to Rosslyn. Smoke did no reach surrounding stations, but officials instituted single-tracking by closing off the tunnel until 7:40 p.m.

A number of other smoke incidents have created problems on Metro in recent weeks, notably causing evacuations at the Dupont Circle and Court House stations in early February. However, Metro officials say that smoke incidents are on the decline, with 120 occurrences in 2012 to only 40 in 2014. There is no official count for 2015.

These safety problems for Metro come at a bad time, on the heels of reports by the Washington Post that Metro’s federally funded alarm system that contacts emergency response radio does not work properly in subway tunnels. Emergency response officials say Metro never notified them that about this critical flaw; they discovered it on their own in 2014 and pressured Metro to fix the problems to no avail. The radio defect held up D.C. firefighters’ rescue efforts at L’Enfant station when smoke killed one and injured more than 80 people on Jan. 12.

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