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Opening Statement, WMATA L'Enfant Plaza Investigative Hearing
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Boardroom

Good morning.  Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board.  I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB and of this board of inquiry.  I am joined today by my colleagues: Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt, and Member Earl Weener. Over the next two days we will hear testimony relating to an accident on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (or WMATA’s) Metrorail system that exposed hundreds of passengers to heavy smoke on January 12, 2015.  

In a few minutes, Investigator-in-Charge Joe Gordon will present a summary of the accident.

For the NTSB, this accident was close to home: It occurred beneath this building, and many of the staff here today, including members of this Board, ride Metrorail trains regularly.  It underscored a core NTSB position: While we are acutely aware and appreciative of the convenience that mass transit provides, safety is always more important than convenience. Unfortunately, the events of January 12 clearly demonstrated that the attention that was given to safety was inadequate.

As a result of this accident, 86 passengers were transported to local medical facilities for treatment; another nine passengers sought medical attention; and, tragically, one passenger died.

On behalf of the entire NTSB, I offer our condolences to the family and friends of the passenger whose life was lost.  We know that nothing can replace your loved one, and we hope our work will not only serve to answer some of your questions, but will also help prevent this from happening again.  For those who were injured, we wish you well during your recovery.  

Our objective in this hearing, and throughout this investigation, is to determine what went wrong, so that we can recommend ways to help prevent similar tragedies in the future. We have begun to do so based on the facts we have found to date.

On February 11, the NTSB issued urgent recommendations to WMATA, the Federal Transit Administration, and the American Public Transportation Association, concerning tunnel ventilation procedures.

We also issued a recommendation on June 8 to WMATA, concerning potential electrical short circuiting hazards.

We are also mindful that yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the crash near WMATA’s Fort Totten station that killed nine people and sent 52 others to local hospitals. While progress has been made on our recommendations stemming from the Fort Totten investigation, six years later we are still encountering concerns that we addressed in these recommendations.

This hearing will elicit additional factual information about the L’Enfant Plaza accident as part of our ongoing investigation.  At a future date, we will issue an accident report that will include a determination of probable cause and any further safety recommendations that are warranted.

NTSB investigations are aided by the participation of parties. The NTSB designates as parties those organizations or individuals whose participation is necessary in the public interest, and whose special knowledge will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence.

At a pre-hearing conference on June 2, 2015, the NTSB and the parties to this hearing agreed upon the issues to be discussed, the list of witnesses who would testify, and the exhibits to which we will refer today and tomorrow. We will be adding additional exhibits to that list of exhibits.

Although we are still gathering evidence regarding all aspects of this accident, testimony and questioning in this hearing will be limited to the four broad issue areas outlined in the hearing agenda:

1.      State of WMATA’s Infrastructure;

2.      Emergency Response Efforts;

3.      WMATA’s Organizational Culture; and

4.      Federal Transit Administration and Tri-State Oversight Committee Efforts to Address Public Transportation Safety.

I will now introduce the parties. As I call the name of each party, I ask the designated spokesperson to identify themselves and their affiliation with the party they represent, and to introduce others seated at their table.



Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC)

Klara Baryshev

Federal Transit Administration (FTA)

Thomas Littleton

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

James Dougherty

District of Columbia Emergency Medical Services (DC EMS)

Christopher Geldart

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU Local 689)


James Madaras

International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF Local 36)

Dabney Hudson

I thank all of the parties for their assistance and cooperation with the NTSB investigation thus far. We appreciate your valuable time, and we look forward to working with you further as the investigation continues.

The order of the hearing will be as follows: Hearing Officer Kris Poland  will follow my remarks with a safety briefing, some scheduling information, and a description of the exhibits to be used during the hearing.  We will then turn to Investigator-In-Charge Joe Gordon, who will provide an overview of this accident.

Following the overview, we will proceed in sequence through the issue areas that I previously identified.

For each issue area, Dr. Poland will introduce NTSB technical panelists and will swear in witnesses. The witnesses have been pre-qualified and their qualifications and biographical information are available on the NTSB website.

The witnesses will then be questioned by the NTSB technical panel, then by the spokesperson for each party, and finally by the Board of Inquiry.

After one round of questions, due to time constraints, a second round will be limited to pertinent questions that serve to clarify the record or to address any new matter that was raised in the first round.  Please raise your hand and I will determine whether the issue warrants a second round of questions.

As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will make all rulings on the admissibility of exhibits, appropriateness of questions, and pertinence of proffered testimony, with the assistance of NTSB General Counsel David Tochen, who is seated behind me. All such rulings will be final.

I must emphasize that NTSB investigations are, by regulation, fact-finding proceedings with no adverse parties. The Board does not assign fault or blame for an accident or incident.

Witnesses should provide only the facts as they understand them, and they may not speculate or give any analysis.  Questions will be limited to the four issue areas already described.

NTSB participants will not ask, and party representatives will not be permitted to ask, questions that call for speculation or analysis, or that are related to fault, outside litigation, or legal liability in general.

The exhibits contain redactions, noted with opaque boxes, which are the result of negotiations between the parties and the NTSB regarding the disclosure of information claimed to be personally identifiable, security sensitive, or proprietary information.

The NTSB is authorized by statute to disclose information to carry out its mission, but we protect confidentiality and proprietary information to the greatest extent possible. While the NTSB has access to all of the information, the exhibits disclose to the public relevant materials that are part of the investigation and/or will be discussed at the hearing.

A white paper explaining our authority to use proprietary information is available on the NTSB website.

Dr. Poland will now provide important safety and scheduling information and describe the exhibits.  Dr. Poland.