The Metrorail system will shut down for a full ridership cycle of least 24 hours beginning midnight today for emergency safety inspections of over 600 electric cables in all tunnels.
If potential safety risks are identified in the checks, the closure may be extended to allow for repairs.
The decision, made by the board of directors and General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, comes after an electrical fire broke out close to McPherson Square station around 4:30 a.m. Monday. The fire delayed the Orange, Blue and Silver subway lines and was caused by an electrical malfunction involving the cables that will undergo inspection.
The power cables are the same type as those that failed during last year’s Jan. 12 smoke incident on a stalled Yellow Line train near L’Enfant Plaza station. The fumes sickened more than 80 passengers and one died of respiratory failure.
Monday’s fire prompted fears about a potential recurrence of the incident and was a key factor behind the shutdown, according to Wiedefeld.
“The investigation into yesterday’s cable fire at McPherson Square is ongoing,” Wiedefeld said at a press conference Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. “As a preliminary matter, the conditions appear disturbingly similar to those in the L’Enfant Plaza incident of a year ago, and our focus is squarely on mitigating any risk of a fire elsewhere on the system.”
A complete shutdown would not be necessary if the safety checks were conducted over six days. However, the decision was made out of concern that Metro would be held liable for further incidents that could occur over a longer inspection period.
“While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life safety issue here, and that is why we must take this action immediately,” Wiedefeld said. “When I say safety is our highest priority, I mean it. That sometimes means making tough, unpopular decisions, and this is one of those times. I fully recognize the hardship this will cause.”
The federal Office of Personnel Management has given employees the option for unscheduled leave or telework due to the shutdown. As of now, no local school systems have announced closures.