It’s already being branded #Metromageddon.
Hundreds of thousands of Washington, D.C., workers were preparing for a potentially soul-sucking commute with the rail system serving the nation’s capital facing a full-day shut down Wednesday.
At least one congressman called on the federal government to let workers telecommute to lessen the agony after Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld announced the shutdown at a news conference in the agency’s headquarters Tuesday afternoon.
The system will be shut down to allow for an emergency inspection of its third rail power cables, Wiedefeld said.
“While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life and safety issue here, and this is why we must take this action immediately,” he said.
District of Columbia Councilman Jack Evans, the chairman of Metro’s board, said that although the system had previously been closed for days for weather, including this year, it was believed to be the first time the system had shut down for mechanical reasons.
A fire on the tracks led to major delays throughout the system on Monday. The fire was caused by the same kind of electrical component that malfunctioned last year and caused a train to fill with smoke inside a downtown Washington tunnel, killing one passenger and sickening dozens.
Wiedefeld said that during the shutdown about 600 so-called jumper cables will be inspected throughout the system. Wiedefeld said those cables were inspected after the L’Enfant Plaza fire and deficient ones were replaced.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, called on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to allow federal workers to take unscheduled leave or telecommute on Wednesday, calling the decision to shut Metro down “a gut punch to the hundreds of thousands of commuters who depend on the system.”
“While I am extremely frustrated with this news, safety must be our No. 1 priority,” Connolly said in a statement. “This dramatic action highlights the need for long-term safety and reliability improvements throughout the system.”
Commuters using the system during Tuesday evening’s rush hour said they hoped offices would close as a result or let workers work from home.
“It’s really frustrating. It’s how everybody gets to work,” said Atlee Ahern, 23, a Justice Department intern awaiting her train home to Bethesda, Md. “The whole system shuts down, the whole city shuts down.”
Ahern, who rides Metro every workday, said she did not see how it would be possible for her to get to the office.
Brian Kirchner, 46, a federal contractor, said he was delayed by two hours getting home to Hagerstown, Md., on Monday because of the fire. He commutes by car, bus and Metro to his job downtown.
“I guess I won’t be coming to work tomorrow,” Kirchner said.