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Lawmakers Demand Answers About Deadly L'Enfant Metro Incident (Updated)

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:14 p.m. | The deadly incident at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station Monday has raised questions about the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's emergency response procedures, and has some members of Congress demanding answers.  

On Monday afternoon, a Yellow Line train from L’Enfant Plaza came to a halt inside the tunnel and the train and tunnel filled with smoke, killing one woman and hospitalizing dozens more.  In the wake of the accident, federal lawmakers from the capital region were demanding answers, and they could have more details on the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation next week. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., announced late Tuesday that she secured a briefing for regional lawmakers and their staff with the NTSB to learn more about the board's investigation into the incident.  

“Incidents on subway tracks are not uncommon or unavoidable, but shutting down the third rail quickly to allow evacuation of passengers and workers by first responders and keeping information flowing to trapped riders are mandatory," Norton said in a statement announcing the briefing. "We have no information that Metro itself is unsafe, and I believe Metro has improved since we lost nine residents in the 2009 Metro crash. I expect our NTSB briefing next Wednesday to provide the first guidance for remedial action."  

Other lawmakers are also pushing for WMATA officials to brief Congress on the situation and the evacuation procedure, which has raised concerns amid reports of passengers who were not evacuated for approximately 40 minutes while they breathed in the smoke.  

WMATA reported Tuesday that the woman who died was Carol Inman Glover, 61, of Alexandria, Va., and it said 21 people remained hospitalized.  

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said he and other regional lawmakers are working on setting up a briefing with WMATA.  

“I’m just very sad about the tragedy for Ms. Glover and her family, and for all the people who were injured and are very concerned,” Beyer said in a Wednesday phone interview. He represents Alexandria, Va., where Glover lived. Beyer said lawmakers will be persistent about getting answers about what happened.  

“We just have to be as aggressive and firm in addressing it as we can be," Beyer said. The Virginia Democrat said he will be attending the NTSB briefing next week. “At this point, what I’m most interested in is their determination of what went wrong and what we can do differently to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.  

Senate Appropriations ranking member Barbara A. Mikukski, D-Md., issued a strong statement Tuesday night calling on WMATA officials to brief lawmakers.  

"Riders must not fear for their lives when they step onto a Metro train," Mikulski said. "That’s why I’m calling for a meeting of the National Capitol Region Delegation with the NTSB and Metro."  

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., also called on WMATA officials to inform lawmakers about the incident, and he pointed out that Congress has allocated significant funds to the D.C. Metro system.  

In 2008, Congress granted the D.C. system $1.5 billion over 10 years as part of a rail safety package, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. Despite questions surrounding the emergency response and safety procedures, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, whose District includes Maryland areas accessible by the Red Line, said the incident should not question federal funding for WMATA.  

"I don't think it should threaten that funding. It won't make the situation at WMATA better if Congress takes away the money," Van Hollen, who is the ranking member on the Budget Committee, said Wednesday in the Speaker's Lobby. "But what that money demonstrates is there's a federal role and oversight responsibility here, which is why we're going to be calling in the National Safety Transportation Board folks as well as the WMATA folks."  

Beyer agreed with Van Hollen, noting the D.C. Metro system provides transportation to federal employees and people visiting the nation's capital.  

"This is our nation's transit system," said Beyer. "Our federal workforce depends on it, millions of tourists depend on it. ... We really are dependent on a significant budget investment on the metro system." Though, Beyer added, "With Sen. Warner, we also want to make sure the money is spent intelligently."  

Van Hollen said he plans to attends next week's briefing with NTSB officials. "We should not have a system that results in these kinds of accidents. And beyond the accidents, there are all of these questions about the evacuation procedure and I think that's where we're going to have to really focus as well," he said.  

D.C. officials are also focused on determining the cause and the emergency response timeline. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a Tuesday news conference she is waiting for the investigation results, though she said the NTSB investigation could become public "in the coming weeks or months.”  

“We will find out what happened, get to the bottom of what happened, and commit to fixing it,” Bowser said.  

In addition to Congress, Bowser and WMATA officials will also have to answer to the D.C. Council. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Tuesday he was calling on the mayor to issue a report on the incident to his committee by Jan. 19.  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report .  

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