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26 Issues Found During Shutdown of DC's Metrorail System, Metro Reopens Thursday

Metro GM: Unprecedented step needed to check all tracks for serious safety issue

Metrorail reopened Thursday morning after the subway system was closed all day Wednesday for emergency inspections of 600 power cables -- and after workers repaired at least 26 cables that were damaged.

The damage at three locations was so severe that those parts of the track were "showstoppers," where "we would not be running trains if we came upon these conditions," Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Wednesday at a press conference.

Frayed power cables are believed to have been the cause of a fire on the tracks early Monday and of an emergency in Jan. 2015, when smoke filled a Metro tunnel, dozens of passengers were sickened and one woman died.

Wiedefeld showed a picture of one torn cable that he said Metro officials were afraid would break.

"Clearly this is a hazardous condition that we cannot accept," Wiedefeld said.

The federal government is planning a safety inspection blitz of the Metro rail system starting next week.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the Federal Transit Administration would redirect millions of dollars Metro has not spent to address safety concerns. At a congressional hearing, he brought up track integrity, operators running red lights and operators' use of emergency hand brakes.

Experts say Washington's Metrorail issues are representative of transportation-related safety issues nationwide. A quarter of the nation's roads are in disrepair and the country's bridges are also in need of billions of dollars in extreme maintenance.

Foxx put the blame squarely on the shoulders of D.C., Maryland and Virginia for what he called a lack of oversight.

"We took over state safety oversight temporarily to give them time to get it stood up correctly and yet we have no concrete movement on the part of these jurisdictions," he said. 

Metrorail had never shut down completely for equipment problems, and the surprise announcement Tuesday that it would close left hundreds of thousands of commuters, visitors and residents of Washington, D.C. scrambling to figure out how to get around the region

As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, Metro said workers had completed inspections of approximately 600 jumper cables. Twenty-six issues were found that require repair or replacement, Wiedefeld said. 

Metro announced Wednesday night that trains on the Red, Yellow and Green lines would operate on a regular schedule Thursday. 

Wiedefeld acknowledged the traffic caused by the shutdown to Metro, saying, "I know today's presented hardship to the region."

"We are sorry this had to happen," said Jack Evans, chair of the Metro Board of Directors, who then called upon the responsibility that the rest of the region has to the aging system. "I think it's important to remember that Metro is not some standalone organization."

Metro workers were joined along miles of underground tracks by electrical engineers from Amtrak and other commuter rail systems.

All of the crews' findings on the state of the third-rail equipment will be shared with the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, Metro said.

Those agencies helped investigate the smoke incident at L'Enfant Plaza in Jan. 2015 which killed one person and injured dozens of others. In that incident, a Metro train filled with smoke while it was stopped in a tunnel near the L'Enfant Plaza station. Carol Inman Glover, 61, of Alexandria, Virginia, was a beloved mother and grandmother who had just won her company's employee of the year award.

A similar problem with cables caused a fire at the McPherson Square station early Monday, according to a preliminary investigation.

Many travelers Wednesday said they understood the life-or-death stakes of keeping the rails safe. But in a region that is growing quickly, and trying to become less dependent on cars, the sudden shutdown of the commuting backbone threw many for a loop.

"I mean, there are a lot of people traveling, like myself, working. We depend on the Metro," commuter Kevin Williams said Wednesday. "It just never occurred to me to think about an alternate route to get there, and then I have to think about that, so it's making it really difficult."

Commuter Peggy Delaney said her commute wasn't too difficult Wednesday morning, and she appreciated Metro's efforts to ensure the system is safe.

"It's really not that bad," she said. "The bus takes about an extra 15, 20 minutes [longer] than the train, so it's really not that bad. Safety first, so that's cool. I can get around."

On NBC Washington's Facebook page, commuters chimed in about their plans for the day, which ranged from making early commutes to taking a day off from work.

"Sharing a ride with a neighbor and making a new friend," Patty Stephenson posted.

"Commute[d] from bed to computer without incident. Thanks OPM!" Judy Warner Weixel wrote.

Twitter user @stephaniedmv wrote, "Traffic from Rosslyn into DC is definitely heavier than normal."


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However, many other roads were experiencing normal or even lighter traffic than usual.

"I was braced for disaster, but the 50 buses were actually not that much more crowded than a normal day," Twitter user @wholenewedu tweeted.

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