D.C. Metro Shutdown

Electric cables source of emergency 

Hundreds of thousands of commuters shared a collective groan and grimace Wednesday when Washington, D.C.’s Metro rail system was completely shut down for emergency inspections of cable wires. The unprecedented move was ordered Tuesday at midnight as a precautionary measure after an electrical fire broke out Monday, causing smoke to build in a downtown Metro tunnel.

The Washington, D.C. Metro system is facing heavy scrutiny regarding its safety and reliability.

The Washington, D.C. Metro system is facing heavy scrutiny regarding its safety and reliability.

The transit system has been completely shut down on other occasions; but these have been weather-related, such as January’s blizzard. Wednesday’s protocol saw crews inspecting all 600 “jumper cable” power lines in Metro tunnels throughout the system, checking their insulation and overall conditions to ensure reliability and safety. We’re talking 119 miles of track connecting 91 stations.

Metro announced early Thursday morning that inspections were completed and its trains would be up and running, via Twitter at 3:44 AM. Trains were officially inactive for a total of 29 hours. In the immediate aftermath, many were still concerned Thursday about tangential complications.

The embattled transit system faces criticism due to the nature of the shutdown. First of all, passenger were furious about the lack of warning time. Many were left with no time to find an

Metrorail covers 119 miles of track, connecting 91 stations in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

alternative method of getting to work or school, and others still may not have heard the announcement at midnight on Tuesday and had to see it on the morning news or read it on a piece of paper at the station. Some of the only people who may have benefited from the situation are the folks at Uber.

Secondly (and more harrowing for the long-term) is the overall safety of the system. Once applauded as one of the nation’s most effective and reliable transit systems, its issues seem to be reaching a tipping point. The emergency inspections revealed that at least 26 cables that were frayed and damaged and had to be repaired. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, who made the decision with consultation from staff and an advisory board, has also had to weather the press and public scrutiny. Widefeld told the Washington Post the decision was necessary for safety, but indicated that in the past they would have performed the checks over a period of subsequent nights with the system still functioning. That does not bode well for passenger safety or inspection quality.

Compounding the worry is the fact that last November the city was shaken by an alarmingly similar incident. In January 2015, malfunctioning electrical cables sparked a fire, causing smoke to penetrate Metro cars that were both occupied and stationary at the L’Enfant Plaza station downtown. One passenger was killed and many others hospitalized. Capital city residents hope the problems can be resolved, and the system that started operating in 1976 revived.



  1. The Hyperloop is For Real | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - March 24, 2016

    […] “Hyperloop Transportation Technologies isn’t your typical tech startup. It has just two full-time employees,” says Davies. “The real work is done by more than 500 engineers with day jobs at places like NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX. They spend their free time working on the Hyperloop in exchange for stock options because they get to work on something that could genuinely revolutionize transportation.” And they appear poised to begin; reportedly on the verge of receiving $9.2 million in funds from the state of Nevada. With a Hyperloop, many commuters could certainly bypass technical difficulties like those in the Washington, D.C. Metro last week… […]

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