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Metro to shut down portions of subway in massive repair effort

Metro to shut down portions of subway in massive repair effort
© Greg Nash

Entire segments of the Washington Metrorail system will be shut down for weeks at a time beginning this June, and other portions of the rail line will experience continuous single-tracking for periods lasting over a month, Metro officials announced Friday.

The transit agency unveiled its massive new track work plan after years of high-profile safety issues and heavy service disruptions. The announcement comes the morning after a tunnel fire near the Capitol led leaders to close the Federal Center station during Thursday rush hour and through the rest of the evening.

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“This is a massive undertaking,” said Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld. “It’s like a military operation. There’s a lot of moving parts that have to work together.”

The draft plan, slated to be finalized May 16, has work beginning in June and lasting through March 2017.

A total of five Metro stations will be closed completely at different points, and 10 areas will experience continuous single-tracking for what officials described as “safety surges.” The longest shutdown stretch will be on the Red Line between the NoMa-Gallaudet and Fort Totten stations in the city's northeast from Oct. 9 to Nov. 2.

Wiedefeld said single-tracking for 21 days straight will enable crews to finish work that would otherwise take 10 weekends.

“It all boils down to track access,” he said.

Peak fares will not be adjusted during those times, Wiedefeld said, because the agency is still providing a base service. 

Shuttles will be available in affected areas and Metro officials will be working with local jurisdictions on ways to avoid traffic congestion caused by the repairs.

Weekend service will end three hours earlier, at midnight, beginning in June, with round-the-clock single-tracking starting after 8 p.m.

The work that will be done includes:

  • Installing boots and seals on all third-rail cables
  • Replacing 12,000 insulators
  • Eliminating all temporary gauge bars
  • Replacing 48,000 wooden ties
  • Replacing 36,000 fixation fasteners
  • Clearing 87,000 linear feet of drains
  • Conducting extensive tunnel leak mitigation

Wiedefeld said there is no price tag for the effort yet but that a portion of the money will come from money that set for future use.

Unlike previous maintenance plans, Wiedefeld said, an independent entity will be verifying the agency’s work.

“We need to do things differently,” he said.

The plan raised eyebrows across the D.C. area. Even President Obama was asked to weigh in during a news conference at the White House. 
 
The president pinned Metro’s state of disrepair on Congress’s refusal to invest in big infrastructure projects. 
 
“The problem we have is that the Republican Congress has been resistant to really taking on this problem in a serious way, and the reason is because of an ideology that says government spending is necessarily bad,” the president told reporters.
 
“That mindset, that ideology has led to us not investing in those things we have to do together.”

Lawmakers acknowledged that while Metro’s plan may be inconvenient and cause headaches for commuters, extreme actions are necessary to pull the system out of a dangerous decline.

“The ambitious maintenance plan announced today by Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is indeed painful medicine,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyLIVE COVERAGE: House votes to impeach Trump after Capitol insurrection Trump era bows out with scorched-earth drama in divided GOP This week: Congress races to wrap work for the year MORE (D-Va.) in a statement. “This unprecedented action reflects the severe damage wrought from decades of neglect for basic upkeep and safety that cannot be undone overnight.”

Updated at 1:29 p.m.