Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washington, D.C., Metro Shuts Down For Systemwide Safety Inspection


And let me wish those in here in Washington, D.C. - where I am - good luck getting to work today. Without even a day's notice, the region's subway was shut down at least until tomorrow. Reporter Martin Di Caro from member station WAMU tells us more.

MARTIN DI CARO, BYLINE: Rush hour at a D.C. Metro station usually vibrates with the near-constant sound of trains coming and going, commuters running to reach their closing doors. Today, running all the way to the office becomes an option. America's second busiest subway is shutting down for a system-wide safety inspection.


PAUL WIEDEFELD: While the risk to public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life safety issue here, and this is why we must take this action immediately.

DI CARO: That's Metro's new general manager Paul Wiedefeld. He's ordering inspections of 600 underground jumper cables across six rail lines after an electrical fire badly disrupted Monday morning's commute. Jumper cables keep the power flowing to trains where there are gaps in the electrified third rail.


WIEDEFELD: From where I sit, the safety of the public and my employees is paramount. So to risk that, I just cannot do that.

DI CARO: Monday's fire was similar to one 14 months ago involving track -based power cables. That incident, which is still under federal investigation, left one passenger dead and more than 80 sickened when smoke filled their train.


WIEDEFELD: It happened once. It could - OK, what happened, right? But it's happened twice in a year, so I can't - you know, I can't wait for the third time.

DI CARO: Before Wiedefeld took the job in November, a series of safety incidents embarrassed the transit authority, frittering away public confidence and leading to plummeting ridership. Commuters who've soured on Metro's daily breakdowns and delays seem to be giving the benefit of the doubt on this one. But Rachel Cleaver speaks for those who don't own a car and have a long commute into the D.C. suburbs ahead of them.

RACHEL CLEAVER: So I'm very glad they're taking safety precautions. But I wish they would have given us a little bit more warning.

DI CARO: Metro Rail records 700,000 trips a day. Twenty percent of rush-hour trips are taken by federal workers. But they can telework today, leaving many of the rest to brave the Capital Beltway, pile into a bus or pay for a ride-hailing app or cab - Thomas Bowen included.

THOMAS BOWEN: I do applaud them for this. I think that it's smart to do it. I just don't know if midweek is the time to do it.

DI CARO: Wiedefeld says depending on how many power units need to be replaced, further significant disruptions to rail service could be ordered to get the work done as fast as possible. For NPR News, I'm Martin Di Caro in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.