Federal investigators: Fans pushed smoke toward DC subway

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Federal investigators: Fans pushed smoke toward DC subway

A woman coughs hard as she and another woman walk past an evacuation of people from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

A smoke inhalation victim receives oxygen after passengers on the Metro (subway) service were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station during the evening rush hour January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. Smoke filled the Washington subway station, forcing the evacuation of startled passengers and forcing afternoon rush-hour commuters to find other ways to get home. 'The source of the smoke has not been determined. The station has been evacuated and is temporarily closed at this time,' Metro said in a statement. Metro is the second-busiest mass transit system in the United States after the New York subway.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Metro Transit Police officers secure the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

Metro Transit Police are seen coming out of the L'Enfant Metro Station after smoke filled a Metro car on January 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti, Washington Post/Getty Images

Reynaldo Hernandez holds a cloth over his smoke covered face as he coughs deeply after being evacuated from a smoke filled metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Smoke inhalation victims walk past a firefighter towards a medical aid bus after passengers on the Metro (subway) were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station during the evening rush hour January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. Smoke filled the Washington subway station, forcing the evacuation of startled passengers and forcing afternoon rush-hour commuters to find other ways to get home. 'The source of the smoke has not been determined. The station has been evacuated and is temporarily closed at this time,' Metro said in a statement. Metro is the second-busiest mass transit system in the United States after the New York subway.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Metro Transit Police are seen blocking off the entrance and exit to the L'Enfant Metro Station after smoke filled a Metro car on January 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti, The Washington Post/Getty Images

A couple holds hands as the man coughs while speaking with a firefighter after people were evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

A firefighter assists a Metro passenger with oxygen aboard a MetroBus after folks were evacuated from the L'Enfant Metro Station when smoke filled a Metro car on January 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti, The Washington Post/Getty Images

A smoke inhalation victim walks towards a medical aid bus after passengers on the Metro (subway) service were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station during the evening rush hour January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. Smoke filled the Washington subway station, forcing the evacuation of startled passengers and forcing afternoon rush-hour commuters to find other ways to get home. 'The source of the smoke has not been determined. The station has been evacuated and is temporarily closed at this time,' Metro said in a statement. Metro is the second-busiest mass transit system in the United States after the New York subway.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Metro Transit Police officers secure the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, following an evacuation. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

Metro riders exit onto the National Mall at the Smithsonian metro stop in Washington on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007. Metro has been troubled with multiple small fires and stoppages over the past few days.

Photo Credit: Jacuelyn Martin, AP

Smoke inhalation victims walk to a medical bus after passengers on the Metro (subway) service were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station during the evening rush hour January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. Smoke filled the Washington subway station, forcing the evacuation of startled passengers and forcing afternoon rush-hour commuters to find other ways to get home. 'The source of the smoke has not been determined. The station has been evacuated and is temporarily closed at this time,' Metro said in a statement. Metro is the second-busiest mass transit system in the United States after the New York subway.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

A Metro Transit Police officer walks up the escalator at L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, following an evacuation. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

A Pedestrian make their way around emergency vehicles that were parked on 7th Street SW after folks were evacuated from the L'Enfant Metro Station when smoke filled a Metro car on January 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti, The Washington Post/Getty Images

Pedestrian make their way around emergency vehicles that were parked on 7th Street SW after folks were evacuated from the L'Enfant Metro Station when smoke filled a Metro car on January 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti, The Washington Post/Getty Images

A firefighter is seen boarding a MetroBus with oxygen to assist passengers after they were evacuated from the L'Enfant Metro Station when smoke filled a Metro car on January 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti, The Washington Post/Getty Images

A firefighter assists a victim after passengers on the Metro (subway) service were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station during the evening rush hour January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. Smoke filled the Washington subway station, forcing the evacuation of startled passengers and forcing afternoon rush-hour commuters to find other ways to get home. 'The source of the smoke has not been determined. The station has been evacuated and is temporarily closed at this time,' Metro said in a statement. Metro is the second-busiest mass transit system in the United States after the New York subway.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Firefighters confer after passengers on the Metro (subway) service were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station during the evening rush hour January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. Smoke filled the Washington subway station, forcing the evacuation of startled passengers and forcing afternoon rush-hour commuters to find other ways to get home. 'The source of the smoke has not been determined. The station has been evacuated and is temporarily closed at this time,' Metro said in a statement. Metro is the second-busiest mass transit system in the United States after the New York subway.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Washington, DC, firefighters load a victim into a medical bus after passengers on the Washington METRO (subway) service January 12, 2015, were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station during the rush hours. The L'Enfant Plaza metro station in downtown Washington was temporarily closed on Monday after a fire filled the station with smoke, the Washington Metropolitan Travel Authority said in a release. Metro Transit Police and fire department personnel were at the station examining the problem, WMATA said, but had not yet found the source of the problem.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Washington, DC, firefighters assist a man(C) and set up mass casuality procedures after passengers on the Washington METRO (subway) service January 12, 2015, were injured when smoke filled the L'Efant Plaza station during the rush hours. The L'Enfant Plaza metro station in downtown Washington was temporarily closed on Monday after a fire filled the station with smoke, the Washington Metropolitan Travel Authority said in a release. Metro Transit Police and fire department personnel were at the station examining the problem, WMATA said, but had not yet found the source of the problem.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Metro Transit Police officers, secure the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke.

Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

A Washington, DC, firefighter assists a woman to medical aid after she became stuck with other passengers on the Washington METRO (subway) service January 12, 2015, after smoke filled the L'Efant Plaza station during the rush hour. The L'Enfant Plaza metro station in downtown Washington was temporarily closed on Monday after a fire filled the station with smoke, the Washington Metropolitan Travel Authority said in a release. Metro Transit Police and fire department personnel were at the station examining the problem, WMATA said, but had not yet found the source of the problem.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

A man coughs and spits as he is evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

A firefighter sets up a triage area as people are evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Coughing people are taken onto a bus as they are evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

A firefighter attends people on a bus to assess triage needs after people were evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

A passenger is seen riding a subway train as it leaves the L'Enfant Metro Station in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, part of the public mass transit network for Washington. The transit network in the nation's capital, remains hobbled after an electrical malfunction that filled a L'Enfant Metro subway station with smoke, killing one woman and sending dozens of people to hospitals. The NTSB is investigating the incident, which happened at the beginning of the Monday afternoon rush hour. It led to the first fatality on Washington's Metro system since a 2009 crash that killed eight passengers and a train operator. NTSB investigator Michael Flanigon told reporters that an electrical "arcing" involving the high-voltage third rail led a train to stop in a tunnel and filled the tunnel with smoke. An arcing occurs when electricity from the third rail comes into contact with another substance that conducts electricity, such as water. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Instead of pushing smoke out of a subway tunnel, ventilation fans actually pulled it toward a stalled train, exacerbating the choking atmosphere aboard the train that led to the death of a passenger in downtown Washington, federal investigators said Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board detailed the ventilation failures as it issued urgent safety recommendations to the Metro transit authority and transit networks nationwide. The board's description of what happened with the fans was the most detailed account yet of Metro's failures during the Jan. 12 accident, which sent more than 80 people to hospitals. Investigators said the smoke was caused by an electrical malfunction.

The Virginia-bound train stopped in a tunnel near the L'Enfant Plaza station during the early afternoon rush hour. The source of the smoke was ahead of the train, but the first ventilation fan activated by Metro was behind it, which pulled the smoke toward the train, the NTSB said. Also, the train operator did not immediately shut off the trains own ventilation system, which caused smoke to be drawn inside the railcars.

In addition, two of the four fans that could have drawn smoke away from the train had either broken down before the accident or stopped working sometime during it, the NTSB found. Metro also has no way to pinpoint the location of smoke in its tunnels, the board said.

Lawmakers representing the region said they were shocked by the NTSB's findings.

"Frankly, it is stunning that (Metro) would need NTSB to remind it that the Metrorail system should have a ventilation system in good working order," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a northern Virginia Democrat. "While I strongly concur with these NTSB recommendations, I am disappointed that they are even necessary."

There were numerous other breakdowns the NTSB has yet to address. Passengers waited for a half-hour before the first firefighters arrived to help them, and some evacuated on their own. They were repeatedly told to stay put by the train operator, who said he planned to return the train to the station.

The cause of the electrical malfunction also remains under investigation.

Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman, said in a statement that Metro welcomes the NTSB's recommendations and is reviewing its protocols and training to comply with them. He said all ventilation fans have been inspected since the accident and were found to be working properly. Metro has also given additional training to employees who have the ability to turn the fans on and off, he said.

According to the NTSB, other transit agencies have written guidelines about how to ventilate tunnels for fires or smoke, but Metro lacks them.

Carol Glover, a 61-year-old federal contractor from Alexandria, Virginia, was killed. It was the first fatality aboard Washington's subway system since a 2009 crash that killed eight passengers and a train operator. Glover's two sons have filed a $50 million lawsuit against Metro.

Patrick Regan, the Glovers' attorney, said he was disturbed but not surprised by the NTSB's findings.

"It's inexcusable that something as relatively benign as what happened could have led to this tragedy because Metro wasn't following the basic safety policies," he said.

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