The entire Metro rail system will shut down from midnight Tuesday night to 5 am Thursday morning. Workers will inspect and replace the kinds of cables that caused Monday’s fire.

Photo by mike on Flickr.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld held a press conference at 4:30 to discuss the decision. WMATA Board chairman Jack Evans also spoke and fully supported the decision. NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss first broke the news shortly before 4 pm.

Wiedefeld said the investigation into Monday’s cable fire revealed “commonalities” between last year’s L’Enfant fire and this. He 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 chance of another fire is “very, very low,” added Wiedefeld, but “as the person responsible for the life and safety” of riders and workers, he felt this action was necessary.

The agency will inspect 600 underground jumper cables during the shutdown, which will take until 5 am Thursday. If inspectors find other cables that need replacing, they will announce further closures or single-tracking.

What will Wednesday’s commute be like?

Will there be car-mageddon? This may show how much the region needs Metro (and a safe and well-maintained Metro).

Buses will continue to run and Wiedefeld said WMATA will increase bus service for schools. Many residents may try the bus for the first time — though those buses might be stuck in massive traffic.

If you can bike, Wednesday would be a good day. Capital Bikeshare is sure to be stretched to the limit.

A lot of people immediately realized ride-hailing services will likely see some heavy demand. Travis Maiers wrote, “Uber’s going to be expensive tomorrow, that’s for sure.”

How we got here

Ronit Dancis said, “Elected officials take note: this is what happens when you don’t fund maintenance of public infrastructure and public utilities.”

While many riders often rightly blame past WMATA managers and safety officials, there’s no doubt that this situation was able to become so dire over time because local and federal governments underfunded maintenance for decades after the system was built. They were able to put less into upkeep without penalty, because things weren’t breaking. Now, so much is broken.

Metro isn’t the only agency in such a situation.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth said in a statement:

Certainly, we will see on Wednesday just how important Metro is to our region — to our transportation system and our economy. We may also realize amid the expected traffic gridlock tomorrow why dedicated bus lanes would offer a great way to move more people, faster and more reliably than the current bus in traffic model.

We hope that the ongoing challenges facing Metro will prompt our elected leaders to work together to provide the funding necessary to fix longstanding maintenance and rehabilitation problems. Failure is not an option.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.