What would it take for Metro to shut down?

An empty Metrorail car is shown on March 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images/Anadolu Agency)

Metro does not expect to totally shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.

“I don’t anticipate that happening,” Wiedefeld told a virtual Metro Board meeting on Thursday.
Only things such as federal or state directives, or significant staffing issues, would lead to a total service stoppage in a worst-case scenario, he said.

Any long-term closure would require a Metro Board vote, but Wiedefeld would be able to shut down the system for a temporary period in an immediate health emergency.

“I think we are playing the critical role that we need to play in the community by providing the services we are providing for those people that need to get to medical institutions, for those people that work at medical institutions, as well as just some of the things for basic life essentials like food,” Wiedefeld said.

Metro has closed 19 rail stations indefinitely, cut rail service back to every 15 to 20 minutes on each line on weekdays, and has significantly cut back bus service until further notice. Cuts on weekends have been even more significant.

The agency has lost an estimated $67 million since mid-March, Wiedefeld said Thursday.

The large-scale changes and response will continue “for the indefinite future,” said Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato.

“We’ve altered service patterns and schedules to balance providing essential service with conservation of resources, including our cleaning capabilities, the use of our equipment and our manpower,” she said.

Metro is also coming up with plans to phase service back at some point down the line when public health officials eventually begin to relax social distancing guidelines.

At least nine Metro workers have confirmed positive tests for COVID-19, as well as a number of contractors.

Ridership is down significantly — by about 95% on the rails and 75% on buses — but tens of thousands of essential trips are still happening across the system each day, even with the service cuts.

The federal government is still finalizing the rules for special funding signed into law last week, so Metro has not yet received the emergency funds. The D.C. area is expected to get about $1 billion in emergency transit support.

Metro could also seek additional funding in future stimulus bills that focus on construction jobs and infrastructure projects, which could allow some projects to be done earlier than previously planned.

For now, Metro has not accelerated any current track work due to concerns about worker and contractor safety.

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