Metrorail will reopen at 5 a.m. Thursday after it was closed all day Wednesday for emergency inspections of 600 power cables — and after repairs of at least 26 cables that were frayed and damaged.
The damage at three locations was so severe that those parts of the track were “showstoppers,” where “we would not be running trains if we came upon these conditions,” said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld at a press conference Wednesday.
Frayed power cables are believed to have been the cause of a fire on the tracks early Monday and of an emergency in January 2015, when smoke filled a Metro tunnel, dozens of passengers were sickened and one woman died.
Wiedefeld showed a picture of one torn cable that he said Metro officials were afraid would break.
“Clearly this is a hazardous condition that we cannot accept,” Wiedefeld said.
Sources told News4 that Wiedefeld walked to work on Wednesday.
Metrorail has never shut down completely for equipment problems, and the surprise announcement Tuesday that it would left hundreds of thousands of commuters, visitors and residents of Washington, D.C. scrambling to figure out how to get around the region
Experts say Washington’s Metrorail shutdown is a good example of transportation-related safety issues nationwide. A quarter of the nation’s roads are in disrepair and the country’s bridges are also in need of billions of dollars in extreme maintenance. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has asked congressional lawmakers for more money to fix the nation’s infrastructure woes.
At a transportation hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski called the Metro shutdown a disruptive move, but a necessary one.
Sec. Foxx put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia for what he calls a lack of oversight.
“We took over state safety oversight temproarily to give them time to get it stood up correctly and yet we have no concrete movement on the part of these jurisdictions. That would be a good start,” Foxx said.
As of 10 p.m., Metro said workers have completed inspections of approximately 600 jumper cables. Twenty-six issues were found that require repair or replacement, Wiedefeld said. All but four of those repairs were done by 9 p.m. and the rest of the repairs are underway, Metro said.
Metro announced Wednesday night that trains on the Red, Yellow and Green lines will operate on a regular schedule Thursday, while there is a chance of service changes on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines due to ongoing repair work at the Foggy Bottom station.
In the event that repairs are not completed in time, Metro said trains will be single-tracking between Clarendon and Foggy Bottom, running Orange Line trains between Vienna and New Carrollton and Silver Line trains between Wiehle-Reston and Largo. The Blue Line would be rerouted over the Yellow Line bridge.
Wiedefeld acknowledged the traffic caused by the shutdown to Metro, saying, “I know today’s presented hardship to the region.”
“We are sorry this had to happen,” said Jack Evans, chair of the Metro Board of Directors, who then called upon the responsibility that the rest of the region has to the aging system. “I think it’s important to remember that Metro is not some standalone organization.”
Metro workers were joined along miles of underground tracks by electrical engineers from Amtrak and other commuter rail systems.
All of the crews’ findings on the state of the third-rail equipment will be shared with the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, Metro said.
Those agencies helped investigate the smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza in Jan. 2015 which killed one person and injured dozens of others. In that incident, a Metro train filled with smoke while it was stopped in a tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza station. Carol Inman Glover, 61, of Alexandria, Virginia, was a beloved mother and grandmother who had just won her company’s employee of the year award.
A similar problem with cables caused a fire at the McPherson Square station early Monday, according to a preliminary investigation.
Many travelers Wednesday said they understood the life-or-death stakes of keep the rails safe. But in a region that is growing quickly, and trying to become less dependent on cars, the sudden shutdown of the commuting backbone threw many for a loop.
“I mean, there are a lot of people traveling, like myself, working. We depend on the Metro,” commuter Kevin Williams said Wednesday. “It just never occurred to me to think about an alternate route to get there, and then I have to think about that, so it’s making it really difficult.”
Commuter Peggy Delaney said her commute wasn’t too difficult Wednesday morning, and she appreciated Metro’s efforts to ensure the system is safe.
“It’s really not that bad,” she said. “The bus takes about an extra 15, 20 minutes [longer] than the train, so it’s really not that bad. Safety first, so that’s cool. I can get around.”
On NBC Washington’s Facebook page, commuters chimed in about their plans for the day, which ranged from making early commutes to taking a day off from work.
“Sharing a ride with a neighbor and making a new friend,” Patty Stephenson posted.
“Commute[d] from bed to computer without incident. Thanks OPM!” Judy Warner Weixel wrote.
Twitter user @stephaniedmv wrote, “Traffic from Rosslyn into DC is definitely heavier than normal.”
However, many other roads were experiencing normal or even lighter traffic than usual.
“I was braced for disaster, but the 50 buses were actually not that much more crowded than a normal day,” Twitter user @wholenewedu tweeted.