Today is the Ides of March, but Washington is aiming for a tragedy more reminiscent of the apocalypse as the Metro subway system will shut down entirely on Wednesday.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she wasn’t consulted on the closure decision, which follows an early-morning tunnel fire near McPherson Square on Monday.
Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said emergency inspection is needed of the third rail on all of the system tracks spanning 91 stations and six lines.
“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,” Wiedefeld said in a statement. “When I say safety is our highest priority, I mean it. That sometimes means making tough, unpopular decisions, and this is one of those times. I fully recognize the hardship this will cause.”
The Office of Personnel Management said the federal government will remain open with the option for telework or unscheduled leave.
Wednesdays are a busy day on the Hill when Congress is in session; there are dozens of House and Senate hearings scheduled for tomorrow. Last votes in the House, though, are expected to be over by 2:15 p.m., according to GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) schedule.
The Metro closure, from the strike of midnight tonight through 5 a.m. on Thursday, could be extended if problems are found during the emergency inspections.
“The investigation into yesterday’s cable fire at McPherson Square is ongoing,” Wiedefeld said. “As a preliminary matter, the conditions appear disturbingly similar to those in the L’Enfant incident of a year ago, and our focus is squarely on mitigating any risk of a fire elsewhere on the system.”
During the L’Enfant incident, a tunnel filled with smoke and brought a train to a halt. One passenger died and dozens of others were sickened by the smoke.
Metro will open all parking lots at stations so people who wish to carpool can park for free. Metrobus and MetroAccess will continue as normal, but are expected to be very crowded.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) called the announcement “a gut punch to the hundreds of thousands of commuters who depend on the system.”
“This decision, while perhaps necessary, will cause significant inconvenience and will disrupt the functioning of the federal government in our nation’s capital,” Connolly said. “…While I am extremely frustrated with this news, safety must be our number one priority. This dramatic action highlights the need for long-term safety and reliability improvements throughout the system.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who also represents Beltway commuters, said the suspension of service “during a weekday with minimal notice is simply unacceptable and untenable for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees tourists, students and many others who rely on the system every day.”
“After last year’s deadly smoke incident, I understand General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s decision to suspend service out of an abundance of caution. Regardless, Metrorail is America’s rail system,” Cardin continued. “While there are still many unanswered questions, it is clear that years of underfunding and inconsistent safety oversight have led us to this point. Congress should finally listen to Metro riders and get serious about funding one of the most important transit systems in the world.”