WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Washington DC area's troubled Metro subway system will undergo an unprecedented 29-hour shutdown on Wednesday for an emergency safety investigation of power cabling, officials said on Tuesday.
The shutdown of the second-biggest US subway system from 12am EDT (12 noon on Wednesday, Singapore time) to 5am EDT (5pm on Thursday, Singapore time) could raise massive headaches for the federal government as hundreds of thousands of employees are left without a way to get to work.
The shutdown of the 230km subway system, which has been plagued by equipment breakdowns and fires, will allow safety officials to inspect about 600 underground cables for worn-out casings, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority general manager Paul Wiedefeld said at a news conference.
"While the risk to the public is very low, I cannot rule out a potential life safety issue, and this is why we must take this action immediately," he said.
Wiedefeld said the shutdown was prompted by a cable fire early on Monday that was just blocks away from the White House and caused delays on three of the system's six lines.
The fire was similar to one in January 2015 in which a woman died and more than 80 people were made ill when a train became stranded in a smoky tunnel, he said.
Wiedefeld said the closure was the first shutdown of Metrorail, the transit system's rail service, that was not weather related since operations began in the 1970s.
The shutdown underscores the safety concerns that have plagued Metrorail for decades and have fed a decline in ridership in recent months.
US Transportation Secretary Antony Foxx put direct safety supervision of Metrorail under the Federal Transit Administration in October.
It was the first time a US subway system had been placed under direct federal oversight for safety lapses.
Since the 1980s, the National Transportation Safety Board has conducted 11 investigations into Metro rail accidents that have killed a total of 18 people.
A government source said the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal workforce, said a decision on whether to close Washington offices would be made after Wiedefeld's news conference.
Two senior Republican aides said the US House of Representatives and the US Senate would remain open on Wednesday despite the shutdown.
Metro carries about 700,000 riders a day.