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Metro rushes to repair communications meltdown

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Staggered by an early morning meltdown of its communications network Wednesday, Metro is rushing to repair problems that crippled the farebox system on some buses, blocked some riders from using Farecard machines, and froze the transit agency's Web site that gives information on delay alerts and schedules.

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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 12:30 PM

Staggered by an early morning meltdown of its communications network, Metro is rushing to repair problems that crippled the farebox system on some buses, silenced subway public announcements, froze the transit agency's Web site and blocked some riders from using debit cards.

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Angela Gates, a Metro spokeswoman, said it was uncertain whether everything could be resolved before evening rush hour. The system-wide malfunction began at 2:45 a.m. when a power failure stalled a data center computer at Metro headquarters in Northwest Washington, she said.

Despite delays caused by the problems, Metro buses and trains continued to deliver passengers to their destinations. In cases where bus fareboxes malfunctioned, passengers were allowed to ride for free.

"At this point we're working to resolve the situation as fast as possible, but I can't say when everything will come back" online, Gates said. Some services -- the Metro Web site, for example -- already are functioning again, she said.

By late this morning Metro reported that fareboxes were back in service and two-way radio communication with bus drivers had been restored. Reservation and dispatch systems for MetroAccess, as well as that system's call center and online reservation service, had returned to normal, Metro said.

The following systems are not functioning:

The "Next Bus" system, where riders can call a phone number or check online to see when the next Metrobus is due at a given bus stop, continued to be out of service. Debit cards will not work in Farecard machines, though credit cards can be used to add up to $20 in value to SmarTrip cards.

The public address system inside of Metrorail stations also is not working.

"I've been here four or five years," Gates said, "and while we've had some problems, I don't recall all of the systems going down at once."


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