DC Metro Death Spiral: Shutdown for 29 Hours

DC MetroWhen I first started working in DC several years ago, any potential delays were likely to be found on the MARC portion of my commute and not as much on DC Metro.

That shifted over to the years to the point that Metro was definitely the worst part of the commute at my most recent DC job.

Part of that was MARC improvements, but even more of it was Metro continuing to get worse.

It had gotten to the point that the Red Line between Union Station and Dupont Circle was generally unreliable for getting me to work on time and unreliable getting me to Union Station in time to make my MARC train home.

I bring all this up as a preface for this news that you may have already heard:

Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld, with support from the Authority’s Board of Directors, today announced the full closure of the Metrorail system on Wednesday, March 16, for emergency inspections of the system’s third-rail power cables following an early morning tunnel fire yesterday.

The inspections of approximately 600 “jumper cables” will occur along all tunnel segments on the Metrorail system. At the conclusion of the inspection process, there may be a need for additional rail service outages. Any further service impacts will be announced to the public as soon as they are known.


The Metrorail system will close at its normal time tonight (midnight) and remain closed until 5 a.m. Thursday. All six Metrorail lines and all 91 stations will be closed on Wednesday.

The unprecedented action follows an early morning electrical fire involving a cable in the tunnel outside McPherson Square Station yesterday. There were no injuries; however, service was disrupted along the Blue, Orange and Silver lines throughout the day.

What’s Next for DC Metro?

I expect this will cause the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to declare an unscheduled leave/telework today tomorrow, unless they do a complete closure of the federal government.

Their status page will have the announcement later if it happens.

DC government and schools will open on time.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if there are more partial or full closures Thursday and Friday as well.

I also expect you will hear of more and more people driving to work in the future, and making the traffic even worse. Anecdotally, I’ve heard a lot of stories over the past several years of people abandoning Metro in favor of driving.

The term “death spiral” for Metro was first mentioned by a WMATA higher-up several years ago.

It describes a continuing decrease in ridership due to reasons including service reliability issues that will result in fare increases to keep the service afloat.

These fare increases would cause even more passengers to abandon the transit service, causing the need for even more fare increases.

For the best summary on how Metro has declined in recent years, read a December 2015 story in Washingtonian magazine.

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton is an award-winning blogger who has been aggregating and blogging since 1998. He has worked as a reporter, in government, and as a communications professional in Columbia, SC and Washington, DC.

Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.

Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.
Jeff Quinton