Aging Equipment Blamed in Metro Incidents

By Lena H. Sun and Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 28, 2007; 4:50 PM

Metro officials said the unprecedented series of smoke and fire incidents that halted train travel in much of the system for two nights running was most likely caused by equipment failure.

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Metro General Manager John Catoe said that Metro lost a transformer at one of its substations Sunday night as a result of a power surge that may have been caused by lightning. Those power problems recurred Monday night when stations on the Yellow and Blue lines in Virginia were forced to close because they lacked electricity.

Also on Monday night, an unrelated problem with a worn-out and overheated stud bolt caused sparks and smoke a the U Street/Cardozo Station on the Green Line. The bolt anchors the third rail to the ground.

At the press conference, Catoe emphatically ruled out terrorism or sabotage. "We have no evidence of intentional acts by anyone to harm our system," he said.

"Sunday and Monday's incidents were unprecedented in our 31-year history," Catoe said. "Thousands of our riders were impacted, and we apologize."

Catoe said Metro has made several changes that are in effect for this afternoon's rush hour.

Some trains will be running slower than usual. Trains traveling between the Pentagon City and Braddock Road stations, for example, will not be accelerating as fast as they normally do, as a way of reducing the amount of electricity they need. Customers who normally catch a train every six minutes will have to wait up to eight minutes during this evening.

Additional field supervisors and shuttle buses will be strategically placed throughout Northern Virginia to improve response time in case of emergency.

Metro officials also are reconfiguring the power substation at National Airport to improve power delivery.

Metro's problems began Sunday, when five separate outbreaks of smoke or fire shut down several stations and halted train service on all five lines. On Monday evening, around the same time -- just after the height of the evening rush -- train service was halted on part of the Green Line in the District and on much of the Blue and Yellow Lines in Alexandria and in Arlington and Fairfax counties. At one point, seven trains lost power in the Blue and Yellow Line tunnels south of the Pentagon, including five passenger trains, a train carrying first responders, and Metro's money train.

The system reopened as usual at 5 a.m. Tuesday, and only minor problems were reported throughout the day.

Earlier in the day, local and federal anti-terrorism officials, including representatives from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, discussed the Metro incidents at a regularly scheduled meeting.

"As far as everyone can determine, there is no terrorism nexis to this incident," said Chris Geldart, who heads Homeland Security's office for the national capital region, after the meeting.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company