Subway shutdown makes for a long day in D.C.

  • Thursday, March 17, 2016 1:03am
  • NewsNation-World

WASHINGTON — An unprecedented safety shutdown of the Metro subway system inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of people in and around the nation’s capital on Wednesday. Federal workers telecommuted or took the day off, children missed school and countless others woke up early to take bus after bus, hail pricey taxis or slog through traffic.

Many people resigned themselves to a very long day.

“I’ve got to catch five buses to get to Alexandria,” said Leander Talley, 52, who loaded his bicycle onto a bus at the Springfield Metro station. “It’s like three and a half hours. It’s crazy.”

After a series of electrical fires, the nation’s second-busiest transit system shut down at midnight Tuesday for a system-wide safety inspection of its third-rail power cables. It will reopen at 5 a.m. today unless inspectors find an immediate threat to passenger safety, which the system’s general manager said was unlikely.

Without working trains in the way, 22 inspection teams were walking 100 miles of underground track, checking power cables for potential problems. By noon, Metro tweeted that half the safety checks had been completed.

Deteriorating reliability has put a dent in Metro ridership, but the trains still handle 700,000 passenger trips a day, providing the best way downtown from Maryland, Virginia and the city’s outer neighborhoods.

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, and more than three fourths said no. Another poll asked how to describe the 29-hour closure: Metropocalypse and Metrotastrophe were winning out over Metromageddon.

Many people did have really lousy commutes on Wednesday, but it was hardly the end of the world.

“It’s always slow, always crowded,” said Bob Jones, 26, of Arlington, Virginia, who agreed with the shutdown even though he intended to walk more than an hour to get home Wednesday night because he couldn’t take the train. “Better that than, like, a fiery inferno,” he said.

The morning rush had bumper-to-bumper traffic on interstates 95, 295 and 395, and some major routes into Washington were choked, District Department of Transportation Deputy Director Greer Gillis said.

In Virginia, the 18-mile drive from Springfield to the capital’s Union Station took about 90 minutes.

Drivers with navigation apps snaked slowly through the narrow streets of Old Town Alexandria and Crystal City to avoid some of the jams ahead of bridges over the river.

Students at the District’s public schools were particularly affected. The city lacks traditional school buses and many students ride the Metro for free to get to school. The school system announced that schools would be open despite the shutdown, but absences and tardiness would be excused.

“This is a significant disruption for many of our families,” D.C. Council member David Grosso said.

Lester Broughton, 71, and Glorious Broughton, 68, spent the night at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport rather than risk missing their Wednesday flight to Florida. They usually take Metro to the airport, and thought Uber, a taxi, or a shuttle would be expensive or crowded.

“I would’ve preferred to sleep in my bed last night,” said Glorious Broughton, but she was holding to her belief in the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

Metro’s general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, said the closure was needed to ensure rider safety after a fire on the rails caused major system-wide delays Monday. The fire was caused by the same kind of electrical component that malfunctioned last year, killing one passenger and sickening dozens after their train filled with smoke.

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

The Metro has closed down before in bad weather, but Wednesday’s safety shutdown is unprecedented, said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who is chairman of Metro’s board.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Metro needs to get serious about these safety problems.

“I’ll keep saying it until the region takes real ownership of its safety oversight responsibilities: D.C., Maryland and Virginia need to stand up a permanent Metro safety office with real teeth. What are folks waiting for?” Foxx said.


Associated Press writer Sarah Brumfield contributed to this report.


Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at . Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at .

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 20

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer reacts to praise for his service from Assembly members after his resignation was announced during a May 13 meeting. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Three city attorney finalists to be interviewed in public sessions this week by Juneau Assembly

Two Juneau residents with CBJ experience and D.C.-based Army attorney seek to replace Robert Palmer.

Angela Rodell, former CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., speaks to the House Finance Committee on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Angela Rodell, former Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO, says she’s running for mayor

First-time candidate to challenge incumbent Beth Weldon; filing deadline for local election is today.

Republican U.S. House candidate Nick Begich, with sign-holding supporters, waves to Midtown Anchorage motorists on Election Day in 2022. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Some Alaska Republican candidates pledge to withdraw if they aren’t atop GOP votes in primary

Pledges are a way to circumvent ranked choice voting, according to one supporter.

People protesting the death of Steven Kissack gather at Marine Park after marching through downtown Juneau on Sunday afternoon. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Protesters demand police accountability following death of Steven Kissack

Advocates gather where he was shot, say they are raising their voices because “he’s unable to speak.”

A U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter hovers over Sitka Sound during routine hoist training. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Lt. Cmdr Wryan Webb)
Yakutat-bound charter flight missing from Juneau

Flight departed from Juneau on Saturday with three people aboard, according to U.S. Coast Guard.

President Biden at the White House on July 3. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
President Joe Biden drops out of race, scrambling the campaign for the White House

Withdraws under pressure from fellow Democrats; endorses Vice President Kamala Harris to take on Trump.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, July 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read