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Transportation chief considered shuttering DC Metro after latest smoke incident

Transportation chief considered shuttering DC Metro after latest smoke incident

The Secretary of Transportation said he seriously considered shutting down Washington’s Metrorail system last week following two smoke and fire incidents in the subway’s tunnels.

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But even though Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxHillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE ultimately kept Metro open, he warned that future shutdowns are still on the table if the transit agency does not follow urgent safety directives that were issued over the weekend.

“We have the ability to withhold dollars from Metro, we have the ability to shut Metro down, and we aren’t afraid to use the authority we have,” Foxx said.

Speaking to a small group of reporters on Tuesday, Foxx said he weighed shuttering Metro last Thursday after two separate smoke and fire incidents prompted officials to eventually suspend service during evening rush hour and close the Federal Center SW station for the rest of the day.

“I seriously thought about it last week,” he said.

Foxx, who described the footage of the incidents as “scary,” said he ultimately decided not to close the system because his team and the Federal Transit Administration came up with what he described as a “sufficient” mitigation plan to reduce smoke and fire incidents.

The incident came one day before Metro unveiled its own massive rehabilitation effort to address ongoing track problems.

Foxx applauded Metro’s new plan for tackling years of deferred maintenance but said the effort does not address the core issue of amperage, or how much electrical power is flowing through the system. He pointed to his recommendations to reduce the amount of power used to start up the trains and to reduce rail cars from eight to six cars.

Foxx emphasized he is not afraid to withhold funds or shut down Metro in the future if urgent safety recommendations are not followed or if the transit agency continues to lack a substantial safety culture. He was unclear, however, exactly where that line might be.

“If we continue to find that the culture of the system gets in the way of our work, I will have no hesitation to shut down the system,” Foxx said.

But federal safety specialists being denied access to Metro's tracks — which Foxx said occurred last week — was apparently not enough to trigger a shut down. Foxx did say he wants names the next time his staff is met with resistance.

“It is hard to help somebody who is keeping inspectors off the track for hours at a time,” he said.