Apologetic Metrorail officials offered reduced, off-peak fares for the remainder of today across the rail system to make up for the big delay on the Red Line this morning.

A 54-inch tear in a track at the Judiciary Square station hobbled the line at rush hour this morning, stalling some commuters for several hours and sending others pouring out onto the sidewalks in search of buses, taxis, a hitchhiked ride or just a stretch of sidewalk for a walk to work.

The problem, Metro announced later in the day, was the horizontal tear in outbound track at the station. Metro said it was the first time in Metro's 28 years that a rail has split horizontally, as opposed to vertically.

The tear was noticed when a small piece of metal split off and made contact with the electrified third rail, causing smoke.

A statement from Metro said the damaged track was installed only a year ago and was given an ultrasound inspection in August and a visual inspection on Wednesday.

"This type of defect is extremely rare, and we are sending the piece of track out for analysis," Steven Feil, Metro's chief operating officer for rail, said in a statement. "We are very sorry about this morning's delays to customers. We know people were inconvenienced and we are just as upset as they are that there was a problem."

The track analysis is expected to take 10 days, Metro said.

The difficulty was discovered shortly after 7:30 a.m. Workers managed to make the fix and reopen the track by 11:30, although delays continued.

But the line had been shut down entirely at Judiciary Square for about 40 minutes beginning about 7:40. Then Metro managed to single-track trains, which kept them moving but very slowly.

"I don't want to commit myself," announced a Metro operator at the Tenleytown station, "but this is going to take a while."

"Red Line -- Destination Unknown," cracked another.

Pedestrian traffic was especially heavy on Connecticut Avenue, around the Van Ness, Cleveland Park and Woodley Park stations, riders reported.

Dozens of people at Cleveland Park got out and put their thumbs out for rides after seeing that buses and cabs were full.

One woman reported boarding the Metro at Shady Grove at 7:30 a.m., getting offloaded and reloaded twice before reaching Dupont Circle at 10:15.

Other riders said they were delayed for as long as 45 minutes at Tenleytown. Then, upon arriving at each stop, the conductor would announce that the train would be holding for 10 to 15 minutes.

Finally, he said if anyone wanted "to vent," his window was open at the end of the train.

A Metro statement said 41 free shuttle buses were brought in to run between the Gallery Place-Chinatown and Brookland-CUA stations to move customers around the problem. About 200 Metro managers at a pre-scheduled meeting broke up the gathering and also went downtown to assist passengers, the statement said.