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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 12/19/2010

Lost in the haze at Metro Center

By David Bates, Takoma Park

On Monday, Metro demonstrated that it continues to struggle to deliver professional and safe service to commuters.

As I got off a Red Line train at Metro Center to catch a connecting train downstairs during my morning commute, I detected a faint smell of smoke, as if from a trash fire. As I made my way toward the stairwell and escalator leading to the lower platform, the smell grew stronger, and I could see a gray haze around the lights near the ceiling of the upper platform.

When I reached the top of the stairs, I saw what looked like two Metro Transit Police officers and two other Metro employees in neon-green vests standing in a thick haze at the bottom. They were looking up at me and several other commuters.

These Metro personnel gave no indication if we should stay upstairs, if we could come down or if we should evacuate. In fact, they communicated nothing to us. Lacking any guidance, some of my fellow commuters proceeded downstairs and disappeared into the smoke.

Behind me, the escalators continued to run, carrying other confused commuters down to the smoke-filled platform. Some commuters — including a woman with a worried look on her face and a toddler in a stroller — were coming up the escalator out of the thickening haze below.

Once I realized that the smoke was getting thicker and that no trains were arriving on the lower platform, I decided to stay upstairs and catch the next Red Line train out of the station.

As I returned to the Red Line platform, I heard an unintelligible announcement over the public address system. (Let’s face it, Metro, your PA system is useless — it has never been able to deliver clear messages, and I doubt it ever will.) I managed to make out a few words like “emergency” and “delay.” This much I had already figured out on my own.

Another Red Line train arrived, and hundreds of rush-hour commuters worked their way to the stairs and escalators to the lower platform. I thought about shouting a warning to them, but I didn’t know what to tell them.

This lack of communication was the real problem — not the fire, which turned out to have been caused by a light fixture and was not serious. Nobody from Metro was telling us anything. As a result, a crowd of rush-hour commuters pushed its way toward the lower platform, where they might be overcome with smoke or panic and flee to the exits.

This pathetic demonstration of Metro management-by-chaos underscores that Metro personnel still don’t seem to have a clue as to how to respond to emergencies.

With such a heavily used transit system in a major metropolitan area of the country, one would expect that, at very least, Metro managers would have a plan for dealing with a small station fire.

One would also imagine that part of that plan would involve directing commuters at an emergency scene away from the threat and preventing more commuters from being dumped onto the crisis scene by arriving trains.

And this was merely a small fire, a contained event that Metro management managed miserably. Such a performance does not bode well for Metro’s next emergency.

By David Bates, Takoma Park  | December 19, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Metro, transportation  
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Comments


Not to worry, Metro just spent $1.2 million on an advertising campaign to improve Metro's image. Of course, that amount of money could have been spent refurbishing three railcars, but I'm sure Metro's image is much more important.

Posted by: Thoughtful-Ted | December 19, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse


Not to worry, Metro just spent $1.2 million on an advertising campaign to improve Metro's image. Of course, that amount of money could have been spent refurbishing three railcars, but I'm sure Metro's image is much more important.

Posted by: Thoughtful-Ted | December 19, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

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