Passengers heading towards Anacostia were stranded for more than an hour, many with few updates from Metro.
In an official report released Thursday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is faulting a miscommunication among emergency responders for contributing to the Jan. 30 fiasco on the Green Line that left hundreds of passengers stuck in the tunnels.
Two packed Green Line trains heading outbound toward the Anacostia station in Southeast D.C. shortly before 4:30 p.m. ran into a problem. A malfunctioning electrical insulator was smoking, so the trains had to be single-tracked around it. That, however, is a routine problem. What happened after it was not.
"Due to a miscommunication between Metro transit police officials and their liaison in the rail control center, police on the platform at Anacostia were unaware of the planned train route, and when they saw the train lights coming in on Track 2 believed there was an immediate life safety threat to the track personnel repairing the insulator," said Dave Kubicek, Metro's deputy general manager of operations, at the transit agency's board meeting.
So police shut down the power to the third rail, causing the two rush hour trains to stop in the tunnel — the first not far from the Anacostia platform. A short time later, Metro was ready to turn the power back on.
"They were approximately 1 to 2 minutes from restoring power when they received reports of self-evacuations and determined it was no longer safe to restore power or move the trains," Kubicek said.
Metro's report says the last of the stranded passengers were de-boarded at Anacostia an hour and 20 minutes after power was lost. The investigation found that the agency's response to the trains "was faster than in prior incidents and improvements were evident in several key areas of emergency response."
However, some Metro board members said the most dangerous aspect of this episode was the decisions by passengers on both stranded trains to escape and walk down the tunnels against the wishes of the train operators. On the train further from the platform, the report says "one passenger challenged the operator by demanding information about when power would be restored. Against the operator's urging, this passenger and others began self-evacuating."
Metro also reviewed its attempts to communicate with stranded passengers during the incident and found that many passengers were frustrated with incomplete information. As for rail riders who were stuck somewhere with smartphone service, Metro staff managed to tweet 79 times, less than every two minutes, updates on service status.
The incident forced Metro's General Manager to issue an apology to customers via email. Among the investigation's recommendations is to reinforce proper procedures for transit police after the activation of an Emergency Trip Station, which can shut down third rail power in the area of a mechanical problem.