WASHINGTON, D.C. – Metro’s website shut down on Tuesday, March 15, and the transit system itself followed that 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, March 15, and the transit system itself followed that 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 would shut down at midnight Wednesday, March 16, to allow for the inspection of 600 cables throughout the system. The system did not reopen until 5 a.m. on Thursday, March 17, making 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 it was 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 before the shutdown. “But safety is paramount. We as the board support the general manager’s decision.”
The move came after a fire at the McPherson station caused hours-long delays on the Orange/Blue/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 would be checking all the cables for corrosion of the protective casing. Such corrosion could result in a “metal on metal” condition between the live wires and the metal tunnels, like the ones leading to the McPherson and L’Enfant incidents.
At a 6 p.m. news conference last Wednesday, Wiedefeld revealed the inspectors did find safety issues at 26 locations closer to the center of the District of Columbia along the Orange/Blue/Silver tracks, including three that they described as “show stoppers” with severe corrosion and fraying in the third-rail jumper cables. A final, 27th issue was discovered and repaired at the Forest Glen station on the Red Line later that evening.
Metro claims it was able to replace all of the problem sections of cable and did reopen as scheduled the following morning.
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, would run on a normal schedule but 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, 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.”
WMATA buses still operated at full service levels to help meet the needs of typical Metrorail commuters. Additionally, Capital Bikeshare offered free one-day memberships, while on the roadways, the high-occupancy vehicle lane restrictions were lifted on US 50 and MD 270 and the District of Columbia stopped issuing red-light camera tickets for Wednesday evening’s commute.
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 the agency 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 as of the press conference.