Metro will shut down a stretch of the Red Line for seven consecutive weekends in order to fix "unmanageable" water leaks, News4 has learned.
The Bethesda, Medical Center and Grosvenor stations will be closed so that huge pieces of concrete can be carefully lifted in place to fit and cover the cavernous and leaky tunnel outside the Medical Center station.
"There is no place else (on the system) that has an issue that is this unmanageable," said Metro Deputy General Manager and Rail Chief Rob Troup in an interview Friday. "It is creating such a large problem for us."
The problem is that the geology of the area near Medical Center allows water to trickle through the old rock on a sunny day. When it rains, it really gushes.
Metro says is spends about $3 million a year just to replace track, switches and components that are constantly corroded by mud and debris at Medical Center because of all the water.
Half of all Metro's "arcing" issues, where water comes into contact with the electrified third rail often causing smoke, also happen at the Medical Center station.
In addition, a critical track "crossover" that allows trains to switch from side to side to get around issues is located in this area.
"We are spending a significant amount of money, time and effort here which we would much rather put somewhere else toward making permanent fixes," Troup said.
The seven-weekend-long shutdown isn't expected until the fall of 2016, but Metro says there is work that has already started to get ready for the lengthy shutdown stretch, and that work will require additional shutdowns.
It could have been much worse. As News4 first reported, one option that was being considered to fix the leaks was shutting down this stretch of the Red Line for up to six weeks in a row. Just the mere mention of that possibility rattled riders and local leaders who pleaded with Metro to find another way.
"What we are trying to do is minimize that impact that we have to the Red Line rider," Troup said. "What we don't want to do is go in and do Medical Center, have seven weekend shutdowns, 10 weekend shutdowns, 14 weekend shutdowns, and then a year later go in and do the same thing."
During the shutdown, riders will have to take shuttle buses that will be set up to get around the station closures.
Metro called in engineers and transportation experts from around the world to find a solution to the water infiltration. The planned fix is basically putting in a "false roof" on the tunnel outside Medical Center.
"We will be coming in with these pre-cast panels which will interlock into place and will provide a shell that will be waterproof. It will provide a better drainage so that the water will go on the outside and won't drop on the track," Troup said.
During this shutdown, Metro says it will also use the time to upgrade the Bethesda station, make adjustments for the planned Purple Line connection and make repairs to concrete piers which carry the Red Line over Rockville Pike near the Grosvenor station.
The cost to fix the water infiltration issues at Medical Center is estimated to be $13 million. Metro says it will put out the contract to be competitively bid.
A formal presentation will be made to Metro's Board of Directors next week.