Metro sends another train with passengers to check out a possible hazard in a tunnel

Fire Department never called for gas odor report -- Police officer sent to check it out

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Just 10-days after being called out by its safety watchdog for dispatching a train full of passengers to check out a known hazard, Metro sent a train with passengers to look for the source of a reported gas odor in a Red Line tunnel. To make matters worse, the train’s operator wasn’t even informed what she was looking for when dispatched to do a track inspection. At the same time, a Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) officer was sent to investigate the gas odor between the White Flint and Twinbrook stations, but the fire department was never alerted to the situation during the almost half-hour the officer conducted that investigation.

The incident happened on the morning of December 30. In the audio above from, you’ll hear a controller at the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) tell the operator of Train 116,  “From Twinbrook to White Flint, give us an inspection. We are looking for anything unusual.” The controller also told the train operator “to be on the safe side” turn off the train’s ventilation system and then ordered another train not to proceed through the tunnel. This happened at 10:41 a.m. At 10:45 a.m., Train 116 reported nothing unusual was found and the controller told the operator to turn the train’s ventilation system back on.

At about the same time Train 116’s operator was given vague instructions to look for “anything unusual”, a MTPD officer was told, “At Twinbrook, we have the smell of gas in the tunnel between Twinbrook and White Flint.” This dispatch occurred at 10:40 a.m. (audio is below). Eleven-minutes later the officer reported no smell of gas at the Twinbook Station and was then headed to White Flint to check further.

At 11:07 a.m., 27-minutes after he was dispatched, the MTPD officer reported, “Be advised there’s no smell of gas at this location either. Do you still have fire department en-route?” The dispatcher answered “Affirm”, indicating that was correct. But that was not accurate information. Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service spokesman Pete Piringer confirms firefighters were never alerted to the report of a gas odor at either Metro station. About a minute later, the MTPD dispatcher told the officer, “We’ve 10-22ed (canceled) fire board. They said it was a smell of mulch.”

As STATter911 first reported, Metro waited almost thirty minutes after the report of a fire alarm at a Prince George’s County bus lot last Saturday before alerting the fire department. Instead, a MTPD officer was dispatched to handle the fire alarm and eventually found there was smoke in the building. Only then was PGFD dispatched.

A Metro spokesperson tells STATter911, the December 30 gas odor report came via an anonymous text message to MTPD’s “Text Tips”. According to the spokesperson, MTPD Chief Ronald Pavlik “is reviewing the handling of this call and may need some policy revision on the MTPD side” in connection to the confusion and failure to alert the fire department.

The spokesperson points out that during a series of gas odor reports at Metro stations in the District of Columbia and Arlington County throughout the day last Sunday, firefighters were promptly dispatched to each location. The difference between Sunday’s incident and the gas odor report on December 30 is that the call came through MTPD and not ROCC, as usually is the case.

While the spokesperson points out a rail supervisor and station manager were immediately told about the gas odor report, Metro, so far, has not addressed why the train operator was not given the same information or why a train carrying passengers was sent to check for a gas odor.

On December 20, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) issued a scathing report over another incident STATter911 first reported where passengers were sent toward a potential hazard. In that incident, on December 10, Metro’s ROCC sent passengers to investigate a report of sparks on the tracks at Tenleytown. When the train operator discovered a small fire, ROCC ordered the operator to reverse the train and head back to Friendship Heights. Due to mistakes made by the operator, the train at first was unable to move and then could only travel at 2 mph, taking almost 50-minutes to get the passengers safely out of the tunnel.

WMSC cited many similarities between the December 10 incident and the 2015 L’Entant Plaza track fire that killed one passenger and injured scores of others. This Sunday is the fifth anniversary of that fire that took the life of Carol Glover. In both incidents, trains were sent toward a reported hazard and became trapped. WMSC compared the dysfunction inside ROCC on December 10 to the chaotic situation during the 2015 tragedy.

Prior to the WMSC report, Metro acknowledged to STATter911 that sending the train with passengers to investigate the sparks at Tenleytown shouldn’t have happened. So far, Metro has not said the same about the December 30 gas odor report.

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