- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Thousands of morning rush-hour commuters on Metro’s Red Line were stranded for up to an hour yesterday when smoke from a cable fire filled the tunnel on both sides of the Woodley Park-Zoo station.

Metro workers reported the smoke to the D.C. Fire Department just after 7 a.m. All electrical power was turned off, and both tracks were shut down at three stations between Farragut North and Van Ness-University of the District of Columbia while electricians repaired the cable.

Normal traffic resumed about noon, though further repairs were expected to take place early this morning, when the system was closed.

Yesterday’s fire underscored the problems such incidents can create for commuters and city and transportation officials.

“It’s just an ugly situation. I can’t explain it any other way,” said Lemuel Proctor, Metro’s chief of rail operations, adding that it was difficult to communicate with so many people with just one station manager.

He said Metro employees were not at the closed stations to help because they were stuck in traffic — along with many of the 25 extra buses that were sent in to help shuttle stranded passengers.

“Some [passengers] were angry,” said a Metro employee at Van Ness. “We get no pleasure out of all this,” he said, explaining that the system is about 25 years old, and water is causing rust and other deteriorations.

Hundreds of passengers walked along Connecticut Avenue to the next Metro or bus stop. Shuttle buses lined up to carry hundreds of others, mostly south, but some to northern stations.

The longest that some passengers were delayed was about 50 minutes, said Metro spokeswoman Taryn McNeil.

Firefighters used chemical extinguishers to put out the fire, which was about 300 yards inside the Woodley Park station tunnel. D.C. Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter said fire damage was slight, and fans in the tunnel cleared out the smoke.

Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson said Metro officers had been at stations all week handing out pamphlets that, among other things, urge commuters to have a backup plan for transportation in case of emergencies.

“The fact is that service is really reliable, but people have to have a Plan B,” Chief Hanson said. “Too many people only know one way to get to work.”

Chief Hanson also said yesterday her department will spend $180,000 to upgrade security on rail lines and at train stations in the wake of last week’s train bombings in Spain that killed more than 200 persons.

The money will be spent on explosives-detection devices, containment units and protective gear. Chief Hanson said she has been trying to procure the items well before last week’s bombings and that the money has been diverted from maintenance projects.

“We thought it was prudent,” she said.

Chief Hanson said since the terrorist attack in Madrid, Metro Transit Police have increased the frequency of station patrols by special response teams equipped with machine guns and explosive-detection dogs.

Metro officials today will close all restrooms in Metro stations until further notice. The decision comes four months after the Metro Board approved a plan to better promote its policy allowing riders to use station restrooms if they are elderly, disabled, with small children or facing an emergency.

Chief Hanson said her department has added train-to-train patrols and increased the number of patrol officers during rush-hour by assigning administrative officers to the stations and trains.

Metro Board Chairman Robert J. Smith said he supported the security expenditure.

“I can’t fault them for putting money into this type of equipment because it’s money that takes us to a state-of-the-art level,” Mr. Smith said. “In the wake of what happened in Madrid, I think we have to do everything possible to reassure the public who use the system that it is as safe as it can possibly be.”

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