WASHINGTON, D.C. – Metro’s website shut down on Tuesday afternoon, and the transit system itself will follow this evening. In the midst of a website crash due to high traffic in the wake of media reports leaking the news, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced that all six Metrorail train […]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Metro’s website shut down on Tuesday afternoon, and the transit system itself will follow this evening.
In the midst of a website crash due to high traffic in the wake of media reports leaking the news, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced that all six Metrorail train lines and 91 stations will shut down on midnight Wednesday, March 16, to allow for the inspection of 600 cables throughout the system. The system will not reopen until 5 a.m. on Thursday, March 17, for a total of 29 hours without service.
“When I say safety is our highest priority, I mean it,” Wiedefeld said.
Metro Board Chair Jack Evans said that this is the first time the system has instituted a non-weather related shutdown.
“Yes, it will impact the entire Metropolitan region. It’s going to be very congested, we recognize that,” Evans said. “But safety is paramount. We (as the board) support the general manager’s decision.”
WMATA buses will still operate at full service levels, Wiedefeld said, with additional buses provided for District of Columbia students who usually rely on the trains to get to school.
The move comes after a fire at the McPherson station that caused hours-long delays on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines on March 14. Wiedefeld said the situation then was similar to a Jan. 12, 2015, fire at L’Enfant Plaza that resulted in the death of a passenger.
“It’s happened twice in a year. I can’t wait for the third time,” he said.
Wiedefeld explained that the inspectors will be checking all the cables for corrosion of the protective casing. Such corrosion could result in a “metal on metal” condition like the ones leading to the McPherson and L’Enfant incidents.
Metrorail carries over 700,000 passengers on a typical weekday, including passengers to and from 15 stations in Prince George’s County.
County Executive Rushern Baker III said in a statement that the county-operated transportation system, The Bus, will run on a normal schedule and not increase its frequency as a result of Metro’s decision.
Baker further said, “Although I am concerned about the impact this closure will have on the region tomorrow, I support General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s commitment to prioritizing the safety of WMATA’s passengers above all other concerns. I encourage all Prince Georgians who use Metro to closely monitor the news and plan for alternate means of transportation. The disruption this shutdown will cause will be difficult and inconvenient, but it is worth it if lives may be saved.”
If the inspections reveal problems, Metro would handle that similarly to how they responded to the McPherson fire, according to Wiedefeld.
“What we intend to find out is where we have any potential issues,” he said. “If we have an issue, we will single track around it and then shut down (that line) at 9 p.m.”
Wiedefeld said he had been in conversations with various federal and state agencies, as well as consultants and “outside properties,” in making the decision.
When asked why he did not shut down the system immediately, if safety was the concern, Wiedefeld said that they had an obligation to passengers who had used the system to commute that morning.
“We brought people in. We want to give them the choice as to what to do,” he said. “I think it is the most rational thing I can do.”
He also said he has “thought about” compensating riders with weekly or monthly passes due to the service disruption, but had not made a decision on whether to do so as of the press conference.