The more we learn about the tragic L'Enfant Plaza incident, the more disturbing it becomes. Undoubtedly there was confusion which is not surprising but the communication and response issues that have come to light are truly unacceptable. Let's follow the chronology of events as reported by the N.T.S.B. and in the Washington Post and elsewhere.
The National Transportation Safety Board says that the victim's train stopped at 3:15 pm and that within a minute fans were activated presumably to dissipate the smoke. WMATA called 911 at 3:22. It seems unfathomable both that it took that long and that Metro has to call 911 instead of having some other more direct link to emergency services.
Far worse is that the emergency responders were apparently not told that people were trapped on the train! I repeat Metro's delayed 911 call is presently thought not to have included the vital information that people were trapped on a smoke-filled train! This information was provided to emergency responders at 3:33 by a passenger on the train.
At 3:50 pm Metro fully shut down the third electrified rail making it safe for emergency responders to get to the train. Of course, the emergency responders were told it was shut down already and went into the smoke-filled tunnel at 3:40 pm. Fortunately, none of them were electrocuted.
Meanwhile, the heroic emergency personnel were unable to communicate above ground to alert their commanders that they were going in the tunnel and that a large group of people were trapped on the train. The failure to convey the fact that a smoke-filled train was full of passengers, stuck 400 feet into an even more smoke-filled tunnel and unable to back up because of the presence of another train at L'Enfant Plaza certainly appears to have contributed to the smoke inhalation injuries sustained by more than 80 victims.
When the brave responders arrived they also learned that the passengers were literally trapped as they were unable to open the train's doors and thus they deployed special keys to open the train and extract the passengers.
Undoubtedly. a great deal more investigation will bring to light even more disturbing revelations but for now, it is clear that confidence in Metro is at a very low ebb.