- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

Some workers who commuted to the District yesterday morning became stranded in the afternoon with no rail or bus service to get them home.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced Wednesday afternoon that it would suspend services at 11 a.m. yesterday, which was followed by announcements by the federal government and other governments across the region that closed for the day.

Metro officials said rail and bus services will remain suspended at least through the morning hours. Crews must inspect the rails and streets before service resumes, the officials said last night.

Though the closings made downtown look deserted by 2 p.m. yesterday, employees who had to work were upset by the lack of mass transit and with the scramble to find a ride home.

“I think they closed it a little bit early, and it’s very inconvenient, especially when it is raining,” said Laura Hetrick, 42, from Potomac.

She was one of the few people at Union Station waiting for a cab ride.

Metro officials said they made the decision to close after a series of conference calls with area officials, Maryland, Virginia and federal emergency management agencies, departments of transportation and a transit authority in Florida familiar with hurricanes.

“We asked Miami transit at which point it would shut down,” said Lisa Farbstein, Metro spokeswoman. “They told us ‘when wind gusts reach 40 miles per hour,’”

She also said Metro trains and buses can operate in winds as high as 80 mph but it is “not advisable.”

When asked why Metro remained operating during the winter’s snowstorms, officials said Wednesday’s decision was based on wind, not precipitation.

The National Weather Service predicted winds up to 40 mph from Hurricane Isabel by yesterday afternoon. The winds could continue to gain speed into today.

Miss Farbstein said concern for the safety of customers, employees and pedestrians was the driving force behind the decision to suspend service during the height of the storm.

“We always put safety above convenience,” she said. “We cannot afford to have anyone standing on a train platform or depot get blown onto the tracks or in front of a bus.”

Still, some commuters insisted Metro officials overreacted.

“I have to take a taxi, and I don’t think it really had to close,” said Attila Suhafda, 35, an information technologist from Hungary who lives in Northern Virginia.

Cab companies reported that requests for airport rides came early in the day but almost none came in the afternoon.

Phillip Lebet, manager of Diamond Cab D.C., said calls for service were consistent with a normal day.

“But no one is going to the airports and train stations,” he said yesterday afternoon. “People are going home and other places.”

A dispatcher at the Yellow Cab Company of D.C. Inc. also noticed an influx of calls from people going to the train stations and airports — more than 100 by 8 a.m. — much earlier than normal.

“We usually have this type of early volume during holidays, and we noticed the influx as early as yesterday evening,” she said.

For Becky Dressel, 19, and son Dominick, 2, the problem was the Greyhound closing, not the Metro shutdown.

“I was supposed to move today to Olympia, Washington,” she said.

“But Greyhound was closed down this morning and this is making me stay. I don’t have any money left for other transportation, so I’ll wait until it opens back up.”

Nearly every major transportation company that operates along the Mid-Atlantic suspended services southbound and to parts of the Northeast.

Amtrak, Maryland Rail Commuter service, Greyhound and Virginia Railway Express were shut down by midmorning.

Arlo Wagner and Denise Barnes contributed to this report.

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