Subway safety shutdown makes for a very long day in capital

Washington, Mar 17: An unprecedented 29-hour safety shutdown of subways in the nation's capital inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of people, but despite predictions of "Metromageddon" or "Metropocalypse," it was hardly the end of the world.

Many riders shrugged it off, saying it's what they've come to expect from the aging, troubled Metro system. One popular Twitter feed about the system, @unsuckdcmetro, was running a poll on whether the shutdown would solve "Metro's flaming cables problem."


Thousands voted, with more than three quarters saying no. "Metro sucks," said Bob Jones, 26, of Arlington, Virginia as he waited for a bus.

The subways are "always slow, always crowded," he complained. The nation's second-busiest rail system stopped its trains at midnight Tuesday for a system-wide inspection of its third-rail power cables after an electrical fire on Monday.

With inspections nearly complete as of 5 pm Wednesday, Metro's general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, said at a news conference that the system would reopen as planned Inspections of 600 cables found 26 areas of concern requiring replacement or repair, Wiedefeld said, including three he called "show-stoppers."

A news release said most of the repairs had been completed, but three lines might see slight service changes if repairs can't be completed by reopening time.

The next step, Wiedefeld acknowledged, was to understand why the problems had occurred. Riders take more than 700,000 trips on Metro trains every day because it's still a quick way to get downtown from Maryland, Virginia and the city's outer neighborhoods.

But the system has become less reliable and ridership has suffered. Wiedefeld, who took over in November after running the Baltimore-Washington airport, acknowledged in a public letter this month that the agency must "improve safety and security, deliver more reliable service, and continue reforms to get our financial house in order."

The system has closed for days for weather, but this was believed to be the first shutdown for mechanical reasons. Wiedefeld said in closing the system that "while the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life and safety issue here."

On Wednesday evening, he said he recognized the hardship that the shutdown meant for the region but reiterated that it was necessary.

Delayed trains, closed escalators and other annoyances have become frequent, but the Metro has had deadly accidents as well, including a 2009 collision between two trains that killed nine people. 


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