Dc_metro_car_interiorWashington, D.C.’s mass transit system is experiencing a recent rash of track fires, causing unpredictable shutdowns of the rail system that are leaving hundreds of thousands of people unable to get to work and has left at least one woman dead.

And the cause is a needless environmental rule.

“An electrical malfunction and smoke in a Metro tunnel under the Potomac caused an hours-long suspension of service Monday on a bottleneck stretch of three rail lines, stranding thousands of morning commuters and raising howls of protest over another breakdown of the Washington area’s transit system,” The Washington Post reports.


“(I)n a situation similar to one that turned fatal in a Yellow Line tunnel Jan. 12, electricity that is used to power trains began escaping from the inbound third rail on Metro tracks under the Potomac about 8 a.m., the transit agency said,” the Post reports.


“Although there was no fire, Metro said, the electricity, which is supposed to be safely contained within insulation, generated heat and smoke as it escaped in the tunnel between the Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom stations. Four months after scores of Yellow Line passengers were sickened in a smoke-filled tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza station, and one rider died, Metro reacted Monday by immediately shutting down a major part of the rail system,” the Post commented.

Steel dust from friction on the rails collects on the insulators, which causes electricity from the third rail to arc. That ignites the insulators, causing them to catch fire. That’s easily preventable by routinely washing the rails to remove the steel dust. Metro used to do that, which is why there were few electrical fires in the past.

But new environmental discharge regulations now prohibit them from washing the rails. Steel dust is collecting on the insulators, and Metro cannot remove it. Downey did not elaborate on the specific regulation.  New discharge water rules adopted by the Metropolitan Council of Governments in 2013 prohibit anyone from engaging in any activity that could cause lubricants or other materials to enter the area’s wastewater systems, without first applying for a permit at least 90 days in advance, and using specific equipment to capture the discharged water. Requiring a 90 day advance period.

The rules are part of an area-wide plan to limit human activity, on the claims that runoff from residential and commercial activity is harming the Chesapeake Bay.  Scientific studies do not back up this claim.

“The other issue is, it’s clear that there has been, I think, a significant uptick in arcing insulators. We were told that there’s an issue that has to do with steel dust in the tunnels. Steel dust, when it accumulates on an insulator, can cause electrical current to move outside where it’s supposed to be,” Mortimer L. Downey, chairman of Metro’s board of directors, told the Post.

Getting rid of the steel dust “isn’t easy,” he said. “There’s an inability to wash the tunnels because of new environmental discharge regulations, and that has been a problem. ”

As a result of the new environmental regulation, the Metro system is now bursting into flames, catching fire and causing the D.C. area’s entire mass transit system to shut down during rush hour.

So, instead of small amounts of steel dust getting into the water, we now have lots of black smoke from electrical fires and increased vehicle exhaust from thousands people taking their cars instead of gambling on Metro.

And that’s before you get to the death of a Virginia woman in one of the fires, and there are more probably to come.

“It was a commuter’s worst nightmare: a Metro train abruptly stops, goes dark and fills with smoke in a tunnel in downtown Washington. Before it was over, one woman was killed and more than 80 passengers were suffering from respiratory problems and other health issues,” the Post reported January 13, 2015

“The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said ‘an electrical arcing event’ occurred about 1,100 feet in front of the train. The event filled the tunnel with smoke, the NTSB said,” the Post reported.

Commuters trapped on the train thought they were “going to die,” passengers Saleh Damiger Sirwan Kajjo, 28, told the Post. “People were choking,” Damiger said. “People were yelling. We couldn’t see each other. One woman, she started to pray.”

The accident killed Carol Glover, a Virginia mother of two trying to get to work that morning.

Regional governments in the metropolitan D.C. area have passed a slew of onerous environmental regulations intended to stop runoff flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

The sources of runoff targeted are not considered to be major causes of pollution, but groups such as the Piedmont Environmental Council are pressing the regulations anyway.

Despite the massive system shutdowns, black smoke, increased vehicle exhaust and the death of a Virginia mother, environmentalists have no plans to allow Metro to wash the rails to prevent more fires.