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Metro will shut down its rail system at midnight Wednesday until at least 5 a.m. Thursday, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Tuesday afternoon.
The closure follows a track fire near the McPherson Square Metro station yesterday. The fire was caused “by an electrical malfunction involving power lines called ‘jumper cables,'” the Washington Post reported.
Metro will inspect 600 underground jumper cables during the closure.
“We must take this action immediately,” Wiedefeld said. When asked why Metro wouldn’t wait until the weekend to close the system, he responded, “The safety of the public… is paramount. To risk that, I cannot do that.”
He added that he “fully recognize[s] the hardship this causes.” The federal government has yet to announce whether or not it will close tomorrow. D.C. Public Schools says it will be open tomorrow, but tardies and absences will be excused.
If additional issues are found, Wiedefeld said Metro will announce any resulting track outages or service disruptions that will go beyond the 24 hours.
Update 6:10 p.m.:
At a news conference announcing Wednesday’s Metrorail closure, Wiedefeld told reporters that the transit agency is continuing to investigate the fire near the McPherson Square station on Monday morning that caused day-long delays on the Orange, Silver, and Blue lines. But, he added, there are “commonalities” between it and the cable fire at L’Enfant Plaza in January 2015 that killed one and injured dozens of others. That incident sparked an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and, eventually, the assumption of Metro safety oversight by the Federal Transit Administration, an unprecedented change in the agency’s history.
On Tuesday, Wiedefeld and Metro Board Chair Jack Evans acknowledged that Wednesday’s systemwide rail closure was also “unprecedented,” except for shutdowns due to weather. Buses will operate under a normal schedule: “Severe crowding is expected.”
“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,” the general manager said in a prepared statement. “I fully recognized the hardship this will cause.”
The Office of Personnel Management announced that federal employees have the option to use unscheduled leave or telework tomorrow.
Asked why, if the risk to safety is so great, Metro wasn’t closing the rail system immediately, Wiedefeld replied that he wanted to give people the choice of how to get home on Tuesday night and that the agency needs to get trains back to their storage places. Still, when asked why the shutdown could not wait until the weekend, he said, “The safety of the public and my employees is paramount.”
On Wednesday, investigators from Metro and outside consultancies will examine nearly 600 cables throughout the system that may be damaged from water or other causes. The agency says additional service changes could result from this systemwide assessment, which would be announced “as soon as they are known.” The last time hundreds of cables were inspected was roughly one year ago.
Metro contacted District and federal officials to alert them of the closure after holding its own conference call with board members at 2 p.m., Evans explained. Asked whether there was a risk of “an accident waiting to happen in the tunnels,” Evans replied, “Yes.”
“We do not know the condition [the cables] are in,” he continued. “We may find that one or two of them are damaged; we may find that 50 of them are damaged. But we, in good conscience, and as the administrators of the system, cannot send trains out in this system, into these tunnels, knowing full well that something could go wrong.”
As of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, three D.C. Public Charter Schools—The Next Step, Washington Latin, and William E. Doar—said they would be closed on Wednesday (you can track additional DCPCS closures here). The Circulator and Capital Bikeshare will be open as normal tomorrow, according to the District Department of Transportation. Additionally, the Department of Public Works will not sweep streets “to relieve competition for parking spaces from an expected increase in motorists,” the agency said in a release.
Metro will reportedly close its rail system for 24 hours, on Wednesday. This per NBC4’s Adam Tuss and Tom Sherwood:
Rail system will close for 24 hours to check 1,200 electrical connectors after latest fire, NBC4 has learned— Tom Sherwood (@tomsherwood) March 15, 2016
An official announcement will come this afternoon.
Screen capture of Wiedenfeld via YouTube