But the myriad fixes Metro officials have tried over the past decade to try to stop the leaks have had the same effect as applying a plastic bandage to a gunshot wound.
The leaks have become a strain on manpower, time and money.
Water has interfered with the 750 volts along the third rail that powers trains. In the past year, more than a third of the incidents involving smoking insulators on the system have been linked to water leaks along part of the Red Line. A smoking insulator on a track often leads to delays for riders.
Now, the agency is looking for a long-term — and potentially more costly — fix, as it says it needs to upgrade the system to deal with running more and longer trains.
“We’re fighting a daily battle,” said Rob Troup, Metro’s deputy general manager of operations. “We’ve patched holes and plugged holes.”
“It is a maintainability and reliability issue,” Troup said.
One of the solutions could involve shutting down parts of the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Medical Center for several weeks, according to Metro. The mere mention recently of a possible shutdown set off a flurry of complaints from riders, local officials and business owners.
Some business owners wondered how employees would get to work and talked of lost revenue if customers couldn’t patronize their restaurants and stores. Transportation experts said some of the roughly 40,000 weekday commuters who use that portion of the Red Line might permanently abandon the transit system and take to their cars.
But finding a longer-term fix to the leaks may mean Metro has no choice but to close a portion of the busiest rail line, according to experts.
Metro officials caution that they are four to five months from making a decision about how to make the fix, and they do not definitively know whether a shutdown of a portion of the Red Line would be needed. One remedy would involve shutting down parts of the line for four or five back-to-back weekends.
The solution that may have the greatest chance of success would require installing a much-needed protective waterproof liner along the tunnel walls, experts said. Metro said it is work that is too complicated to do in off-hours or on weekends and may be the best — and only feasible — solution to fix the leaks. Critical switches in the Medical Center area had been so regularly covered with mud that until two years ago they weren’t used. Now they are cleaned more often to keep trains running if they have to share a track.