The metro subway system in Washington D.C. will remain closed the entire Wednesday until 5 a.m. Thursday.
The move comes in light of safety concerns following a fire that was caused Monday near the McPherson Square station. Metro officials said that the shuttering will allow inspection of the equipment. As many as 700,000 passengers on an average weekday use the transit system’s six lines and 91 stations.
Metro CEO and General Manager Paul Wiedefeld spoke about the safety concerns, saying that he understood that the closure would make it difficult for travelers. “While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life-safety issue here,” Wiedefeld said. “When I say safety is the highest priority, I mean it.”
On Monday, a fire instigated on the tracks outside the McPherson Square Station, causing delays on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines all day. Wiedefeld said Monday’s incident had “commonalities with the cable fire in [the] L’Enfant Plaza [station] a year ago,” which had resulted in the death of a woman.
All 600 “jumper cables” that bridge gaps in the electricity powering the trains will be assessed, NPR reports. Presence of friction or moisture on a cable can potentially cause a fire. Wiedefeld said that the shuttering could be extended to other subway lines if more issues emerge upon investigations. While the cables were assessed last year, they would be assessed again this time. “It’s happened twice within a year,” he said. “I can’t wait for a third time.”
According to Jack Evans, chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, while no problems emerged in investigations after last year’s fire, deterioration could’ve occurred since then. “We need to get to the bottom of it,” Evans said, as reported by USA Today. “This is the first time it’s closed down for non-weather conditions.”
The difficulties the shuttering of the metro system will cause will be significant. The network is spread across three jurisdictions – the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia – which will make it problematic for workers and students. “It will impact the entire metropolitan region – there’s no doubt about it,” Evans said. “Without Metro, it’s going to have a lot of congestion.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly referred to the closure as a “gut punch to the hundreds of thousands of commuters who depend on the system.” He called for the US Office of Personnel Management to allow workers to take unscheduled leaves or telecommute on Wednesday, CBS News reports. “While I am extremely frustrated with this news, safety must be our No. 1 priority,” Connolly said. “This dramatic action highlights the need for long-term safety and reliability improvements throughout the system.”