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Washington, D.C., Metro to close for 29 hours for inspection

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NY Yankee

26 Mar 2012
New York City

The massive transit system in the nation's capital will shutter all day Wednesday and won't reopen until 5 a.m. Thursday so safety officials can inspect equipment, Metro officials said.

Metro CEO and General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, barely into his fourth month on the job, said he understood the hardship the closure would cause for the region's commuters, but a fire Monday near the McPherson Square station raised broad concerns about the system's safety.

Metrorail's six lines and 91 stations carry more than 700,000 passengers on an average weekday.

"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."

The conditions that led to the fire Monday near McPherson Square appear similar to the fire that ignited at the L'Enfant Plaza station in January 2015. That fire killed one passenger and injured 86 others.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx called the shutdown "inconvenient" but necessary. Federal offices will remain open, but the Office of Personnel Management said federal workers could use unscheduled leave or telecommute because of the outage.

“WMATA has a long, well-documented list of safety issues and needs to work aggressively to fix them," Foxx said.

The inspections will cover 600 so-called "jumper cables" in the system, Wiedefeld said. Friction or moisture on the insulated cable can cause deterioration that sparks fires. If inspectors find more problems, outages could continue for longer on specific subway lines, Wiedefeld said.

If a cable needs to be replaced, as happened at McPherson Square, the station is shut down down at 9 p.m. because the repair work requires lines in both directions to be turned off, he said.

Workers will need to crawl around on the ground near the electrified third rails that power the trains so it's necessary to shut down the system, said Wiedefeld, who notified the U.S. Transportation Department and the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents.

"I'm trying to deal with what I know and what I fear," Wiedefeld said.

Jack Evans, chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said inspections a year ago, following the January 2015 fire, found no problems with the cables, but that more deterioration could have occurred since then.

"We need to get to the bottom of it," Evans said. "This is the first time it's closed down for non-weather conditions."

Metro is the only subway in the country spread across three jurisdictions, which makes governance more complicated: the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Evans acknowledged that workers and students will have trouble getting to work and school.

“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."

In response to the announcement the Uber car service said it would put a cap on surge pricing, rates that are higher during periods of high demand, and that it would expand its limited Uber Pool service, a segment of Uber that allows passengers to ride with others going in the same direction for lower rates, across the Washington area.

Lyft, another car service, announced that passengers summoning their cars can use the discount code METROHELP for $20 off their first ride during the shutdown.

The first time I used the DC Metro was when I was 9 back in 1994. I was intrigued by the cavernous stations. I also liked that the platforms were clean and the trains were comfortable. Unlike most mass transit systems, DC Metro carriages have cushioned seats. Throughout the years, I've traveled back and forth to DC. I've visited most of the Smithsonian museums.

The Metro was considered the gold standard of North American mass transit systems. Then, everything changed on June 22, 2009. That's when 9 people died in a crash on the DC Metro's Red Line. From that point on, the system rapidly declined. Almost every day there is a delay. Trains have detached in tunnels. Last year, there was a fire at a major station (L'Enfant Plaza).Someone suffocated and died. With the exception of holidays, every weekend 2/3 of the system shuts down for construction. Even the NYC subway, which is full of homeless people and rats, is more reliable than the DC Metro.

Next time someone complains about the London Tube, appreciate the fact that some people have it a lot worse.
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RailUK Forums


3 Jan 2016
DC metro is certainly the most comfortable I've been on, however when I was there the weekend works were a bit of an annoyance.

Hope this is nothing more than a precaution.


Veteran Member
21 Apr 2013
The Metro was considered the gold standard of North American mass transit systems. Then, everything changed on June 22, 2009. That's when 9 people died in a crash on the DC Metro's Red Line.

Caused, if I recall correctly, by some distinctly dodgy signalling which allowed a train to be totally undetected if it stopped in the wrong place.


Established Member
20 May 2012
Caused, if I recall correctly, by some distinctly dodgy signalling which allowed a train to be totally undetected if it stopped in the wrong place.

Impedance (known locally as Wee-Z) bonds in the track circuit on which the stationary train was standing had been changed recently, as part of a system wide renewal. Following that work the track circuit had been failing wrong side intermittently, but it appears that went entirely unnoticed by controllers due to the fairly high latency of the control room indications. A failure coincided exactly with the time the following train passed the previous 'virtual signal' block joint and it received a proceed speed code from the track circuit. The ATO then drove the train on automatically until the train operator saw the obstruction ahead and applied emergency braking too late. Perhaps the new component was faulty, or was not as functionally equivalent to the old bonds as engineers had assumed.

I think metros worldwide should be moving away from track circuit based train detection to remove the electrical commonality with the traction system. Modern products Seltrac and Cityflo use balises and axle counters I believe. Although the recent Siemens (Westinghouse) DTG system as used on the Victoria line in London uses track circuits, with LULs 4 rail traction system, return current is isolated from them.

Returning to Washington DC, it's not clear from the report whether the jumpers are in the supply rail side or the running rail return. If they are in the supply side then its just a case of renewing the cables and perhaps specifying better sheathing if mechanical damage is suspected. If they're in the return side then it could be something similar to UK 3rd rail problems where running high DC return currents through rails also hosting train detection track circuits sometimes causes problems including fires that are highly undesirable in tunnel environments. Overheating of return cables might also be related peripherally to the signalling due to the limited number of impedance bonds possible safely within each track circuit and the authority trying to lengthen as many trains as possible to 8 cars, which clearly draw more power than the typical shorter trains used in the past. If the the coded track circuit ATP and train detection system was replaced with something non-TC based, then as much additional bonding as necessary might then be incorporated to increase the resilience and reduce the resistance of the traction return path. Frequent simple cross bonding between rails and between parallel tracks unconstrained by train detection section boundaries would then become possible.
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