Metro system closure is a rarity

October 28, 2012

More than 100 people representing governments, utilities and transit systems in the Washington region held a conference call late Sunday that led to the rare decision to halt Metro transit operations on Monday.

The forecast from the National Weather Service had changed for the worse, predicting higher winds from Hurricane Sandy, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. Concerns were rising about interruptions to the power supply, and in addition, federal government offices were closing.

A particular hazard, Stessel said, was the “threat of stuff blowing into the tracks” in outdoor sections of the rail system.

It was not immediately clear when the system would reopen. “No decision has been made,” Metro said in an a statement Sunday evening.

It was not clear how many workers in the private sector would be asked to report on Monday.

Sandy's projected path and rainfall totals

Zack Souther, a chef at Lavagna who lives in Southeast Washington, said the Metro shutdown will affect his commute more than his workday.

“I’m just going to have to take a cab or walk to work instead, spend more money and more time,” Souther, 37, said. “I’m going to get to work regardless.”

Metro’s announcement appeared to have little, if any, precedent since the rail system opened in 1976. The system is the second busiest in t he United States; bus and rail systems combined provide about about a million trips each workday.

The announcement came hours after the decision to shut down the New York City transit system, the nation’s busiest, in anticipation of the storm.

With Metro’s announcement, Stessel said, transit operations along the Eastern Seaboard were suspended as far north as Connecticut.

Metro, he said, “held out a little longer than other transit agencies.”

Keeping employees, including those who work for Metro, from having to travel to work “is a benefit to the region as a whole,” Stessel said.

He expressed the hope Sunday night that many people could heed the warnings and “avoid traveling entirely.”

Metro has restricted service in the past because of inclement weather. On Sept. 18, 2003, operations began but were forced to close at 11 a.m. in response to Tropical Storm Isabel, Stessel said. In addition, the heavy snowstorms of the last few years curtailed operations severely, to the point that service was virtually halted at times.

MetroAccess service was canceled for Monday along with bus and rail operations.

In its announcement, Metro said it would resume service “when it is safe to do so.”

It said the storm would require a full assessment of damage, including inspections not only of the tracks and stations, but also of bridges and aerial structures.

The return of Metro service would also depend on the ability of utilities to supply power, the announcement said.

Metro has said that its rail and bus system serves about 3.5 million people in a service area of 1,500 square milles. Metro has estimated that more than 40 percent of people working in the core of the area use mass transit.

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