D.C. Metro's Unprecedented Shutdown

by | March 16, 2016

By Susan Decker

Washington, D.C.'s commuter rail will suspend service for more than a day for a systemwide safety inspection after a fire Monday in a train tunnel disrupted the morning commute.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the extraordinary shutdown after investigators raised concerns that the fire in a cable could be related to one last year that filled a tunnel with smoke and killed one passenger.

"I fully recognize the hardship this poses for the community," said WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld at a news conference. "The safety of the public and my employees is paramount."

The system will shut down at midnight EDT Tuesday and reopen at 5 a.m. Thursday. It's the first time the system has been shut down for a nonweather event.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been investigating Metro since the January 2015 incident, which was blamed on an "electrical arcing event" on the track.

"The similarities there are concerning to me," Wiedefeld said.

The system carries 700,000 commuters a day in and between Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Many of them work for the U.S. federal government, which is weighing how to respond.

The Office of Personnel Management "is actively coordinating with WMATA, DC and regional governments, and regional transportation entities to assess the current situation," the agency said in a statement.

WMATA has 91 stations above and below ground and 117 miles of track.

A crash in 2009 killed eight riders and a train operator. The June 2009 accident, which injured 52 passengers, occurred when a moving train plowed at full speed into one that was stopped. A track circuit, part of an automated-train control system, failed to detect the stopped train.

(With assistance from Jon Morgan and Angela Greiling Keane.)

(c)2016 Bloomberg News