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Updates: D.C. Metro shutdown

March 16, 2016

A sign at the Rosslyn Metro station notifies riders that the system is closed. (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko)

The hundreds of thousands of people who normally take Metrorail to school and work turned to cars, bicycles and buses Wednesday morning as the rail system shut down for an emergency inspection of 600 electrical cables, two days after one of them caused a fire that crippled the system.

Alternate transportation | A look at damaged cables | Passenger reaction

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

SILVER SPRING, MD-MAR 16: Lines for buses throughout the morning were voluminous but not overwhelming. The Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center normally services both bus riders and Metro riders as the two entities share the transit hub in downtown Silver Spring. Today however, it was bus riders only as the Metro train system is down for a security check. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

After more than 24-hour hiatus, Metrorail service will resume at 5 a.m. Thursday morning, officials announced at an evening press conference.

But riders should be aware that there still may be service delays. Metro General Manger Paul J. Widedefeld that while the majority of the 600 cable installations have been inspected, repairs are still being made. If the fixes are not completed by the start of rail service, officials may single-track some trains or provide bus bridge between stations where work is still to be completed.

Traffic around the region was mixed on Wednesday with some drivers reporting lighter than usual traffic. Other modes of transportation, including app-based services such as Uber and car-sharing services such as Car2go reported brisk business. Cyclists also said there were above normal levels of two-wheeled commuters zipping around the region’s vast network of bike lanes. Capital Bikeshare had offered free 24-hour memberships during the Metro shutdown.

Check here for an account of how the region coped with the shutdown. For update Thursday Metrorail service and other tips for getting around, check the Dr. Gridlock blog.

  • Martin Weil
  • ·

How smoothly traffic is flowing along Rock Creek Parkway near the Kennedy Center.

The volume is substantial, but unimpeded by snarls or tie-ups. Cars roll quietly along , most with nobody inside but the driver.

This may be subjective, but those behind the wheel seem calmer, less weary than usual at day’s end. One might almost detect signs of satisfaction at having dared the threat of chaos and won.

A couple of Ubers, and a couple of taxis, but mostly private cars. In one cab, the driver, grins at something apparently said by his white-haired passenger. Someone in an Uber with a West Virginia plate has his arm draped over the outside of the back door, looking around with interest.

The sun is setting behind the towers of Rosslyn, across the Potomac.

Rowers in 8 pared shells glide up and down the river. Traffic on the nearby Roosevelt Bridge is moving swiftly and smoothly in both directions.

The early evening temperature is warm and pleasant.

Given all these sights and the seeming serenity who would not wish for more such days?

  • Tim Richardson
  • ·

Here’s what Metro inspectors found during emergency inspections of power cables:

  • Michael Laris
  • ·

The evening rush in central Washington had swaths of misery, as ever, with some places hit harder than usual and others sputtering along as they do daily.

For instance, commuters complained that one major artery cutting through the Shaw neighborhood, Rhode Island Avenue NW, was more awful than on a typical weekday. Traffic cameras confirmed their pain, showing cars limping through seemingly endless lines of congestion around 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, some roads further west trudged along as normal, unstuck but still unpleasant, including stretches of Florida Avenue and Columbia Road.

“We have a couple that are normal, we have a couple that are a little heavier than normal, and we have a couple that are lighter than normal,” said Lt. Sean Conboy, a D.C. police spokesman, just after 6 p.m., summing up the mishmash.

More than 200 police officers and a contingent from the Department of Transportation have been having some success directing traffic through bad spots, he said, and he’s heard of no reports of bike or pedestrian accidents, a major focus. “It’s going well,” he said.

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

An aide holds up a photo of a track damaged by fire as Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, left, speaks during a news conference to announce that Metrorail would  be shut down for a full day at  Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority headquarters on March 15 in Washington. At center is D.C. Council member Jack Evans. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Metro officials said that rail service will reopen  at 5 a.m.  Thursday but that Metro may institute bus bridges and single tracking in some areas as crews continue to conduct inspections and make repairs.

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said that roughly 80 percent of the inspections had been completed and that 26 problem areas were identified.

On Tuesday, Wiedefeld stunned the region when he announced the total shutdown of Metro’s rail operations. The news left thousands of commuters and schoolchildren scrambling for a way to get to work and school and back home again. But Wiedefeld said the closure was needed to give crews time to conduct emergency inspections of 600 track-based power cables — the same cables that burned during last year’s fatal Yellow Line incident.

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

A Mazda  Zipcar vehicle sits parked in one of the company’s spaces in Washington, D.C.,   on Jan. 2, 2013. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The shutdown of Metro’s rail system  Wednesday forced many area residents to find alternative ways of getting around. And it looks like car-sharing service Zipcar was one of the beneficiaries.

Officials at the company said they had their best Wednesday ever — with a nearly 50 percent increase in reservations compared to a typical Wednesday.

“It’s the highest utilization on a weekday that we can remember,” said spokeswoman Lindsay Wester  in an email. But despite the bump in business, Wester emphasized that the company thinks that D.C. works best when people have a “wide variety of mobility options,”  and hope Metrorail will be up and running soon.

Of the more than 800 Zipcar vehicles in the D.C. area,  more than 170 are near Metro stations.

Wester said that for folks still looking for a way home, Zipcar does offer an overnight rate of $29 for a rental that will run from 6 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Wester said some cars also are being offered at special rates during the Metro shutdown.

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

Many buses were full  Wednesday, which also is typical of a normal weekday in Washington. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Metro officials have scheduled a 6 p.m. news conference to update the public on the status of Metro service.

On Tuesday, Metro’s General Manger Paul J. Wiedefeld shocked the region when he announced the total shutdown of Metro’s rail system beginning at midnight Tuesday so that crews could conduct emergency inspections of 600 track-based power cables throughout the system. At the time he said he hoped officials could resume rail service  Thursday, but whether they will be able to remains to be seen.

In an early afternoon update, Metro officials said that half of the 600 cables had been inspected and six had been replaced.

Wiedefeld called for the inspections after  a fire early Monday just west of McPherson Square. The incident, which delayed service for riders on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines, seemed to echo the deadly calamity  Jan. 12, 2015, near Metro’s L’Enfant Plaza station. An electrical malfunction on tracks near the station that day filled a tunnel with smoke, engulfing a stalled Yellow Line train in fumes. Scores of passengers were sickened and one died of respiratory failure.

On Tuesday, Wiedefeld said that while the risk of another incident was small, it was too risky to delay the safety checks.

“While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life-safety issue here, and that is why we must take this action immediately,” he said in making the announcement.  “When I say safety is our highest priority, I mean it. That sometimes means making tough, unpopular decisions, and this is one of those, for sure. I fully recognize the hardship this will cause.”

  • Luz Lazo
  • ·

The Maryland Department of Transportation is lifting HOV restrictions along I-270 and U.S. 50 for this evening’s commute.

The agency said it is lifting the restrictions to reduce traffic congestion due to the fact that more vehicular traffic is expected as a result of the Metro shutdown.

The restrictions will be lifted along eastbound U.S. 50 between I-95 and U.S. 301 in Bowie, and northbound I-270 between I-495 and MD 121. Normal HOV restrictions will resume at 5 a.m. Thursday, MDOT said.

  • Michael Laris
  • ·

Traffic control officers are fanning out along major roadways to guide drivers out of Washington, including allowing them to go through some red lights, D.C. police said.

But  contrary to some reports, police said, that only applies to places where an officer is standing there directing you to go through.

See the full story.

  • Patricia Sullivan
  • ·

More than twice as many bicyclists and pedestrians crossed the Key Bridge between Rosslyn and Georgetown this morning as normal, numbers from Arlington County’s automated counters show.

The number of pedestrians on the bridge between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. reached 1,379, and 933 bicyclists crossed as well. Nearby, the Rosslyn Bikeometer along Lee Highway recorded 857 trips during the same four-hour period. That’s twice as many as were recorded Tuesday.

Bike and pedestrian counts on Arlington’s large number of automated counters tend to start rising in March, as weather becomes more reliable and people are tempted to try non-Metro commutes. Given the Metro shutdown Wednesday and the 70-degree weather, more people apparently took the challenge.


  • Tim Richardson
  • ·

Metro’s Wednesday shutdown was precipitated by a predawn fire on Monday in a tunnel near the McPherson Square station. General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld called the fire “disturbingly similar” to the deadly smoke incident in which a woman died near L’Enfant Plaza in 2015, and he said he doesn’t want to risk another such tragedy. Here’s a look inside the smoke and fire defects that paralyzed the Metro system.


  • Victoria M. Walker
  • ·

Note: to use the 360 functionality, use your cursor over the video above to scroll around the room. If you’re viewing on a mobile device, open the link in the YouTube app.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

With the morning rush over, we’re shutting down our Metro shutdown liveblog for now. Go here for the latest updates. And here’s how to get around today.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·
Trevor Maurer had no idea Metro was closed. (Victoria St. Martin)

Trevor Maurer had no idea Metro was closed. (Victoria St. Martin)

Trevor Maurer had no idea Metro was closed.

The 28-year-old bopped into a nearly deserted Shady Grove station just after 10 a.m. Wednesday and stopped dead in his tracks. His orange headphones dropped out of his ears and nearly fell to the ground as he stared at the closed sign above in disbelief.

“My heart sunk, and then I got really nervous,” said Maurer, who lives in Gaithersburg and works as a waiter at a country club restaurant in Bethesda. “How am I getting into work?”

When Maurer rode the Metro on Monday, he didn’t see any postings about a closure. And while he believes in safety, he said he really wishes Metro officials “got the word out to everybody a little bit better than they did.”

“I don’t regularly check the website, and I assumed on a nice day like today there’s no reason to check it for weather outages or anything,” he said.

Maurer takes the Metro pretty much every day. But he was off yesterday, so he didn’t ride.

And he won’t be riding today.

“Now I guess I have to get an Uber to get into work,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can do right now.”

  • Michael E. Ruane
  • ·
Taxi cabs are expected to see a jump in business with Metro closed Wednesday. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Taxi cabs are expected to see a jump in business with Metro closed Wednesday. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Taxi driver Yalemsew Zegeye, 28, of Hyattsville, thought the Metro shutdown might make for good business.

It was not so. He netted only a handful of customers during the morning commute. He said he started at the Fort Totten Metro station, but the cab line there barely moved, so he headed downtown.


“So far, it’s not that much different,” from a normal day, he said, as he drove through Cleveland Park and Woodley Park areas on Wednesday. “Probably I didn’t get the right location or something.”

“For me it’s normal,” he said. “I don’t see that much difference…taxi jobs most of the time are chance.”

He said there are thousands of taxis in the city and plenty of competition from ride-sharing services like Uber.

He said he thought many people stayed home rather then try to get to work.

Finally, he said, after waiting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for 20 minutes, he got a good fare: a group of tourists headed to the zoo.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Jessica Williams wasn’t going to take Metro anyway: Monday’s electrical fire in a tunnel was too much.

“I was petrified to hear it. It just terrifies me to know I could have been underground and things are catching on fire and it’s so hard for people to get to you. It’s just horrible,” said Williams, 24, a cashier at the Washington Hospital Center gift shop. “When I hear fire—my mom was killed by fire. When I hear fire, I turn into a different person.”

Her mother was murdered and set on fire in 1997, Williams said. “I don’t do fire.”

Williams had always used Metro. It’s an easy ride from Anacostia to the Shaw/Howard University station on the Green Line. But on Wednesday she and her son were taking the bus.

“It makes you really want to go and get a friggin’ drivers license and get a car,” Williams said.

  • Arelis R. Hernández
  • ·

While Beltway commuters were delayed earlier during the rush-hour on the Montgomery County side of the highway, it is now drivers in Prince George’s County dealing with the irritation of stop-and-go traffic.

On the inner loop, there are significant delays past Branch Avenue toward the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge. Meanwhile on the outer loop past Andrews Air Force Base, red brake lights shine in succession as roadwork gets underway and Maryland State Police stop speeding drivers.

Some of the delays appeared to be rubbernecking and residual backups from earlier crashes. Traffic was back up to speed once drivers got past a crash on the shoulder near Central Avenue.

  • Antonio Olivo
  • ·
Fairfax commuters wait for the VRE. (Antonio Olivo)

Fairfax commuters wait for the VRE. (Antonio Olivo/The Washington Post)

Some commuters in Fairfax County rerouted their trip to the Virginia Railway Express commuter train line after learning that their local Metro station was closed. Ted Pluchinski, a government contractor in Crystal City, waited for a VRE train at the Lorton station, slightly annoyed that his trip to work has been stretched by another 15 minutes. “It miffed me a bit yesterday because I didn’t hear about it until I was on the train ride home last night,” Pluchinski said about the Metrorail shut down, standing in his business suit on the drafty VRE train platform. “But it is what it is.”

  • Susan Svrluga
  • ·

At Union Station, the Metro escalators were running, so every once in a while Wednesday morning, someone would step on. One man, seeing the shuttered entrance down below, tried to turn around but got stuck, backpedaling in place as he climbed up while the escalator chugged steadily down. Most just popped up on the other side from the “up” escalator, and rushed to the cab stand.

Many people just walked after getting off their MARC and VRE trains, rushing, annoyed that they would be late. Others welcomed the fresh air after their train ride, and said they had started walking in good weather anyway after hearing about smoke, fire and other safety scares on Metro.

Faith Royce, on her way to work in Dupont Circle, said, “I’ve been trying to swear off Metro as it is, because nothing works. They don’t do basic maintenance.”

She has been trying out alternatives after a string of bad experiences, like taking the Metro from her home on Capitol Hill to Pentagon City only to find, after shopping, that the Yellow Line was shut down. She has been 45 minutes late for appointments because of Metro delays. After foot surgery, she was going to a doctor’s appointment last winter when she got stuck in “not one, not two, but three stations — I couldn’t elevate or escalate out.” She had to cancel the appointment — and took a cab to the next one. Now she’s learning bus routes and trying Uber. “Metro is wonderful when it works,” she said. But it has cost her too much in recent years with delays and breakdowns and unexpected high fares of cabs she didn’t expect to have to take. Now she’s thinking a bus might be the way to go. “I’m fed up with Metro.”

Carlene and Terry Abbott got to Union Station with time to spare for their Amtrak train to New York — because they took a cab. They come to D.C. every March from Nebraska for a national postmasters conference. With a 7-day Metro pass, Carlene has been sightseeing while Terry is at meetings. But when they were walking through the lobby of their hotel in Crystal City on Tuesday, she gasped: On the TV it said Metro would be closed. “Then our folks back home called,” to make sure they had seen, she said.

Their trip over the bridge and up past the Capitol Dome took just 20 minutes despite some traffic. The cab fare was a shame, though, and they were thinking the fares on the way back Wednesday night might be even higher. “We’ll see if people are taking advantage of the situation,” Carlene Abbot said. She was thinking about how many people were inconvenienced by the closure: “700,000 people every day — it’s crazy. That’s a lot of feet, to keep running like they do.” It’s such a convenient way to get around, she said — “other than the other day, when I was out tootling around the city, when the train stopped and I heard there was a fire at the next station.” She made a face; she was thinking, “What would I do if I had to get off? How would I get back?”

Deanna Won, 49, had to get to Union Station to catch a train to Philadelphia Wednesday morning. But when she logged onto the Metro trip planner, the only options it suggested were buses from Arlington. Confused, she called, and learned to her shock that there was no Metrorail service all day. “Wow. We’re in the nation’s capital, and we don’t even have reliable transportation.

“This has been a frustration that has been building,” she said, each time there is a delay or a problem. When she travels to other countries, she always finds a better way to get around there.

By bus, it would take her an hour and a half from Arlington, so she got an Uber, which cost about $24 with surge pricing. “With Metro I’ve been late to important meetings,” she said. “It’s just sad.”

  • Perry Stein
  • ·
Capitol Bikeshare riders are having trouble finding parking. (Perry Stein)

Capitol Bikeshare riders are having trouble finding parking. (Perry Stein/The Washington Post)

People riding Capital Bikeshare into downtown had trouble finding a spot to dock their bikes.

Derek Macabee, 26, took advantage of the Bikeshare program’s 24-hour free membership promotion while Metro is down, and pedaled in from Bethesda.

He liked his first bike commute, but when he arrived to drop of his bike after 9 a.m. at a station on 15th and L streets NW, all the spots were full. Within a five minute span, a half dozen other people unsuccessfully attempted to dock there bikes there as well.

“The weather was nice,” said Macabee. “The ride would be worth it if I could find a place to park my bike.”

Macabee said he’d consider trying to bike again to work — but maybe not in D.C.

“I’m moving soon,” he said. “Hopefully in New York they have more bike stations.”

Capital Bikeshare has three gathering stations in the city with employees onsite, where people can drop off their bikes even if the dock is full. The list can be found here.

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