Metro’s Rhode Island Avenue station will likely stay closed until Monday morning so independent structural engineers can inspect the areas where pieces of metal and concrete fell from the ceiling twice in recent days.
Metro officials said Friday afternoon that they’re taking “extraordinary steps” to prevent any additional debris from falling inside the station, erecting thousands of square feet of protective netting and commissioning a report on what repairs need to be performed.
Joseph Leader, Metro’s new chief operating officer, said that crumbling concrete appears to be superficial and not critical to the infrastructure of the station.
“At this time, we do not see anything that will lead us to believe that the structure is unsafe,” Leader said.
The station shutdown comes in the middle of Metro’s 10-month SafeTrack maintenance program, which has caused station closures, segment shutdowns, and single-tracking throughout the system since June. The program was ordered by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld in an effort to prioritize safety.
Andrew Off, Metro’s assistant general manager for rail services, acknowledged that shuttering Rhode Island Avenue for three days may have been seen as an overzealous approach by Metro’s previous leadership. The dramatic steps taken to deal with the problem, he said, are a sign of a heightened commitment to “safety over service.”
“Certainly, the culture is turning,” Off said. “We’re willing to take what would have been perceived as extraordinary steps a year ago ... to make sure we’re providing a safe system.”
Leader offered more detail on what has been falling from the ceiling at Rhode Island Avenue. On Wednesday night, a station manager noticed that a small piece of concrete and metal had dropped close to the escalator.
Workers reinforced the bracket where the defective component had been removed. They also identified several other areas where they chipped off loose pieces of concrete, and they conducted an inspection before beginning Thursday morning service.
Then, on Thursday evening, the station manager spotted a new cluster of debris: chunks of concrete, about 3 to 4 inches long, that had fallen about 40 feet from the first spot.
At that point, Leader said, it became clear that the station needed “a more robust inspection.” The station has been closed since Thursday night.
The Red Line will continue operating over the weekend, but trains will travel through the station at a slow speed without stopping. Leader said crews have not seen any signs of falling debris on the station’s elevated train platform.
Shuttle buses will provide service between the Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations throughout the weekend.
“It was a decision we don’t take lightly,” said Leader, who started his job one month ago. “But after consulting staff and engineers, [we asked] the simple question, ‘Could we prevent this again from happening?’ And the answer was ‘Not until we do a thorough inspection and really rule out that there’s not going to be any more concrete.’”
Over the weekend, Metro staff will erect the netting, which will cover the entire ceiling of the mezzanine area. Leader said the netting will stay up until workers can make permanent repairs.
At the same time, consultants will be using special equipment to examine the concrete structures and the platform of the station. They will then deliver a report to Metro with the reason for the falling concrete and recommendations on how to repair the problem.
Based on those recommendations, Metro staff may also take steps to prevent crumbling concrete at other above-ground Metro stations with similar design.
Rhode Island Avenue station is the oldest above-ground Metro station with a raised platform. The crumbling concrete may be a sign of a need for more significant repairs, Off said.
“It’s certainly something we will see in our capital program, and we will address that in the near future,” he said.
Leader said that the concrete that fell Thursday night was likely caused by spalling, when pieces crumble off the surface of a structure, usually because of freeze-thaw cycles.
“It would lead us to believe that it was probably some water that had got behind, from years of freezing and thawing that takes place,” Leader said, “the concrete will separate from the structural membrane and then eventually will crack and fall.”
If the inspection and netting installation are completed quickly, Leader said, the station may reopen sooner than Monday morning. But workers are going to be meticulous, he said, to ensure that there’s not a third incident of falling debris.
“I know this is a holiday weekend, and I know we are inconveniencing a lot of folks who live and use this station,” Leader said. “However, we are doing it for your safety.”