Washington, DC’s widely reviled Metro system unexpectedly announced Tuesday afternoon that it will shut down for more than 24 hours starting on Wednesday morning (March 16), leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters scrambling for a way to get to work.
Metro officials said the shutdown was necessary to conduct emergency inspections of electrical cables that were linked to a fire last year that killed one passenger and injured dozens. A smaller cable fire took place on Monday, which did not cause any injuries.
“It’s happened twice in a year. I can’t wait for the third time,” said Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld. “While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life safety issue here and this is why we must take this action immediately.”
It will be the first time the DC Metro has been closed for any reason other than inclement weather in its almost 40 year history. Metro became the first US subway system to be placed under federal supervision in October after a series of safety lapses.
Riders were understandably puzzled as to why the system remained open on Tuesday evening if it was in imminent danger. But Metro officials said they could not strand commuters who were already at work when the closure was announced.
The federal government announced that workers would be encouraged to telework or take unscheduled days off due to the disruption to transportation. One Virginia congressman called the decision a “gut punch” to federal workers and other DC commuters. About 14% of the DC metropolitan area is made up of federal workers.