[This post has been updated]
Update for the Wednesday morning commute
Most transit services were resuming normal schedules and speeds Wednesday after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the East Coast on Tuesday afternoon.
• Amtrak: The railroad says trains are operating at normal speeds between Baltimore and Washintgon.
• Commuter rail: Virginia Railway Express says operations will be normal on Wednesday morning. The Maryland Transit Administration expects to offer full MARC service. However, some MARC trains may depart late so ensure that train crews have been able to receive the amount of rest between shifts required by the Federal Railroad Adminstration. There may be delays of 20 to 60 minutes on the Brunswick Line.
• The Fairfax Connector bus service expects to run normal operations.
• Metro: Metro announced this morning that operations would return to normal.
About 9:40 p.m. Wednesday Metro announced that bus and MetroAccess service had resumed normal operations.
Metro said that elevator and escalator inspections had found no structural damage.
READ MORE ABOUT THE EARTHQUAKE:
Original post: An 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the East Coast on Tuesday afternoon, throwing the afternoon commute into chaos.
Gridlock was reported around the region, from the streets of downtown where some traffic signals were malfunctioning, to the tunnels of Metro, where trains were operating at speeds of 15 mph as a precaution.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said at 6:20 Tuesday evening that crews were continuing to inspect the rail system’s 106 miles of track, tunnels, bridges, aerial structures, elevators, escalators and stations. He said they expect to finish the inspections by midnight and will have an update at 10 p.m. on their progress and what to expect in the Wednesday morning rush-hour commute.
“We are cautiously optimistic that tomorrow morning’s commute will be back to normal,” Stessel said.
A station manager at Naylor Road injured his ankle when the “earth twisted around him,” Stessel said. The manager was transported to an area hospital with minor injuries.
Early in the commute, some stations including McPherson Square and Farragut North were experiencing crowds of people trying to get on trains. To manage passenger flow, Metro Transit Police were holding people at the top of Metro station entrances.
Crowds had eased considerably by 6 p.m., but Metro said delays would continue due to the speed restrictions.
MetroAccess, Metro’s service for the disabled, was also experiencing delays due to traffic signal outages and congestion.
Mark Roeber, a spokesman with “VRE, said that he was driving back from an event in downtown Fredericksburg where he said he saw buildings "shake and plate glass windows fall out of buildings.” VRE service is suspended as of 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, Roeber said. He said Amtrak is doing “inspections before allowing anyone to exit Union Station.”
“Until they’ve inspected the tracks in the yard they’re not allowing VRE, MARC or Amtrak to move,” Roeber said. “They’re doing track inspections to make sure there is no structural damage to track or debris that fell on the track.” He said VRE is reporting no injuries at this time.
Hundreds of commuters crowded the Virginia Railway Express platform at L’Enfant Plaza waiting for train service that was very much in flux at 3:30 p.m.
Announcements on the platform said that Amtrak had stopped trains from running through downtown Washington tunnels until they could be inspected.
Keith Wilson, a Federal Aviation Administration employee from Gainesville, said he expected his trip to Broad Run at the line’s end to last as much as two-and-a-half hours, should railroads keep trains running at slow speeds.
He didn’t bring reading material for the ride home. “They won’t let us back in the building,” he said.
Sarah Rowe of Manassas was luckier. “ I can deal with the delays. I have a good book to read,” she said -- book two of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones.
She was more concerned about her dogs, which usually spend no more than 12 hours indoors. “Now it’s going to be 14 or 15 hours.”
VRE trains began running shortly after 4 p.m. but officials warned that there would be significant delays and crowding as trains ran at reduced speeds. VRE reported at 7 p.m. that restrictions had been lifted on the Manassas Line, although CSX, which owns the tracks, was still conducting some inspections. MARC and VRE were reporting delays of one to two hours on some lines.
At 5:30 the line of people at 15th and New York Avenue waiting for a commuter bus was about 70 deep, a single-file snake a block long that took the wait from its usual 10 to 15 minutes to more than 1.5 hours.
People waiting for the Dale City-bound OmniRide bus were civil but “disgruntled,” said Voneka Bennett, 34, a writer/editor who was let go early from her job at the Department of Treasury, along with other federal employees, because of the earthquake.
Some people self-evacuated from Dulles and Reagan airports but flights are operating there, said Courtney Mickalonis, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
“We didn’t find any damage in our initial checks and no injuries were reported,” she said. As of 2:40 p.m., she said some people were still waiting outside but that the buildings are open.
Later, the airports authority reported that Terminal A at National Airport had been evacuated due to the smell of gas in the building but later said no gas leak or major structural damage was found.
BWI was operating. “Airport operations are continuing,” said Jonathan Dean, spokesman for Baltimore-Washington Marshall International Airport. “Flights are arriving and departing. I suspect there are some delays but I can't confirm that right now.”
Amtrak officials were inspecting inspecting the infrastructure of railroad lines in the area and would “then proceed accordingly,” according to Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman. Amtrak service was "temporarily suspended in the area around the radius of the epicenter," Magliari said. He said Amtrak has no reports of injuries at this time. Amtrak warned of residual delays between Washington and Baltimore.
Terry Speigner, a Democratic activist in Prince George’s who is working on the county council campaign of Arthur Turner, had been trying to get back to the county for an evening campaign event. But he was stuck in Arlington for more than an hour, trying to head south on Route 1 towards the Wilson Bridge. “It’s a parking lot,” he said.
The District Department of Transportation sent out crews to inspect its bridges and tunnels, and later reported that all tunnels had been cleared for travel. The Virginia Department of Transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration also said they were conducting inspections of structures and bridges. VDOT also lifted HOV restrictions on the interstates to help ease the congestion.
The Maryland Transportation Authority said its facilities appeared to be sound, but the Harry Nice Bridge on Route 301 was closed for safety reasons.
When the earthquake hit, he was already in his car. “It started shaking from side to side. I looked out to see if there was a tornado or wind. I did not see the trees shaking. I was talking to a friend in Fort Washington who said ‘my entire house is shaking.’ “ At that point, Speigner said he realized it was an earthquake.
Transportation officials, however, said that the worse of the congestion appeared to be concentrated in the District.
Richard Allen, director of the seismology laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, said 5.8 or 5.9 earthquake is “exceedingly unusual” for the mid-Atlantic region. Early reports collected on the U.S. Geological Survey website showed people felt the quake from New York through Virginia. The underlying geology of the East Coast allows seismic waves to travel further than they do in California, Allen said, which explains the broad area affected.
Mike Blanpied, USGS associate coordinator for earthquake hazards program:
“We would certainly expect aftershocks but it is unlikely that we’d have a larger earthquake. The aftershocks could be really any magnitude up to 5. most likely the aftershocks will be up into the magnitude 4 range. So people should expect further shaking.”