Electrical Problems Cause Metro Delays

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007; 9:50 AM

Metrorail reported major delays this morning on the Red Line because of an electrical current problem along the track between the Dupont Circle and Woodley Park stations.

The problem stemmed from the "arching insulator" that holds up the third rail, which carries the electric current that runs the trains, Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

The insulator created an electric current "that is not supposed to be there," Farbstein said, causing smoke and sparks along the rail that were first reported about 7:15 a.m.

As a result, trains in both directions shared a single track between Dupont Circle and Van Ness while crews worked along the other track to remove the problem insulator. Full service was restored just before 9 a.m., but residual delays were expected to continue for some time as trains shifted back to normal schedules and routes.

"We're trying to get trains back to normal as quickly as possible. Everything is up and moving again," Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for the system, said.

Earlier this morning, the problems underground also snarled traffic on Connecticut Avenue NW above the Dupont Circle and Woodley stations, as dozens of fire trucks and emergency vehicles stood by to assist if the sparks morphed into a significant blaze. D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the emergency vehicles cleared the scene by about 8 a.m.

Farbstein said crowds grew inside Red Line stations through much of the morning commute, as passengers waited for trains to arrive.

She said a similar problem in the same general location along the tracks had caused delays on the Red Line last night. It is not yet known whether the two problems were directly linked, or how long this morning's repair work will take.

"Apparently it's not the same insulator, but it's in the same general area," Farbstein said. "They come and they take out the insulator that's causing the problem and they replace it."

In addition to the insulator-related problems, Red Line commuters also faced significant delays last night when several pieces of unattended luggage on an Amtrak train prompted authorities to evacuate passengers and shut the Rockville Metro station for about 2 1/2 hours. The luggage ended up being harmless.

Staff writer Howard Schneider contributed to this report.

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