WASHINGTON - The entire D.C. Metrorail system is shutting down Wednesday and will stay closed until 5 a.m. Thursday as safety checks are conducted, the transit system announced. Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld made the announcement during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
News of the planned system-wide shutdown comes one day after an early-morning cable fire in a tunnel near the McPherson Square station caused major service disruptions on the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines on Monday. Metro said the fire caused damage to the rail bed, and though the scene was cleared at around 6 a.m., it caused delays through the morning rush.
WHY THE SHUTDOWN?
According to Wiedefeld, preliminary findings from Monday's fire indicate that there are some commonalities with the cable fire that took place near the L'Enfant Plaza station last year. One rider, Carol Glover of Alexandria, Va., was killed and more than 80 others were sickened during that incident, which took place in January 2015. After that incident, the NTSB recommended an immediate fix of components that are designed to protect the electrified third rail from water and other contaminants.
As a result of wearing down of the insulation around those cables, causing a metal-on-metal situation which leads to smoke from the rails, Wiedefeld says he is shutting down the entire system to inspect 600 underground jumper cables and look for any other issues that could be putting passengers at risk.
"While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life safety issue here, and that is why we must take this action immediately," Wiedefeld said. "When I say safety is our highest priority, I mean it. That sometimes means making tough, unpopular decisions, and this is one of those times. I fully recognize the hardship this will cause."
The planned shutdown marks the first time the rail system has closed for an entire day for a non-weather related issue.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU ON WEDNESDAY
The Metrorail system will stay closed until Thursday at 5 a.m. If any other cables are found that need replacement, they will notify the public of any necessary closures, including single-tracking and possible further closures, as soon as possible.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management says the federal government will be open, but employees will have the option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework on Wednesday as a result.
The D.C. government and D.C. Public Schools will be opening as normal on Wednesday. However, the school system says tardiness and absences will be excused. DCPS is working with Metro to add additional bus service.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says additional police officers will be deployed to help deal with the increased traffic and construction work by road crews will be suspended.
More than 700,000 people rely on Metrorail every day for their commute. But on Wednesday, all six lines and 91 stations will be closed. However, Metrobus and MetroAccess will continue to operate on a normal schedule and additional buses will be running.
For commuters still scrambling to find other ways to get to their destination, click here for alternative options.
IS IT NECESSARY?
When asked why the closure had to happen now, and not on the weekend when fewer people might be using the system, Wiedefeld said, "The safety of the public and my employees is paramount, so to risk that, I just cannot do it."