How Metro handled inauguration and Women’s March

WASHINGTON — Looking back on last month’s near-record ridership for both the inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Council members had a good question for Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

How was Metro able to operate with minimal issues?

“How did you do that? Did you just get lucky and nothing happened?” asked Jack Evans, D.C. council member and Metro board chairman, restating questions he had been asked.

“How did you make it work so well that we had almost no incidents on Metro on two of the busiest, most-stressful days that Metro has ever faced?”

Those questions were asked during a D.C. performance oversight committee hearing Thursday, of which Evans was also the chairman.

Wiedefeld said that aside from modified staffing, it wasn’t much different from a normal day for the system.

“We did have issues both days. Things did occur,” Wiedefeld said. “As you can imagine, that was an all-hands-on-deck 48-plus hours.”

Hundreds of police officers and members of the National Guard were brought in to help for Inauguration Day, and Wiedefeld said the agency burned through a lot of overtime to make sure the system was well-staffed.

“We had lots of people out there immediately reacting, which I don’t have every day to do,” he said.

Everyone was positioned throughout the Metrorail system to help visitors use the fare gates and communicate with riders.

Smoke fills a Washington Metro system subway car near the L’Enfant Plaza station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. The transit network in the nation’s capital remained hobbled Tuesday morning after an electrical malfunction that filled the busy subway station with smoke, killing one woman and sending dozens of people to hospitals.

A firefighter sets up a triage area as people are evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

Metro Transit Police officers secure the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

A smoke inhalation victim receives oxygen after passengers on the Metro (subway) service were injured when smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza station during the evening rush hour January 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. Smoke filled the Washington subway station, forcing the evacuation of startled passengers and forcing afternoon rush-hour commuters to find other ways to get home.

Metro Transit Police officers secure the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, following an evacuation. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

A man coughs and spits as he is evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

An FBI Medic, center, helps people onto a bus after they were evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

FILE – In this Jan. 12, 2015 file photo, a woman is transported in a wheelchair onto an ambulance as people are evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington. Passengers on a smoke-filled subway train in the nation’s capital were still asking when help would arrive 27 minutes after the smoke was first reported, District of Columbia officials said Thursday. One woman died and dozens more were sickened when the train filled with smoke Monday afternoon near a busy station in downtown Washington. The cause of the electrical malfunction that led to the smoke remains under investigation.

Metro Transit Police officers, secure the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke.

FILE – In this Jan. 12, 2015, file photo, a firefighter attends people on a bus to assess triage needs after people were evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington. Federal transportation safety officials will be gathering information about a fatal malfunction on Washington’s subway system during a rare investigative hearing. One woman died and more than 80 others were sickened by smoke after an electrical malfunction in January caused a train to fill with smoke while it stopped in a tunnel in downtown Washington.

A Washington, DC, firefighter assists a woman to medical aid after she became stuck with other passengers on the Washington Metro service January 12, 2015, after smoke filled the L’Efant Plaza station during the rush hour. The L’Enfant Plaza metro station in downtown Washington was temporarily closed on Monday after a fire filled the station with smoke, the Washington Metropolitan Travel Authority said in a release. Metro Transit Police and fire department personnel were at the station examining the problem, WMATA said, but had not yet found the source of the problem.

A Metro Transit Police officer walks up the escalator at L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, following an evacuation. Metro officials say one of the busiest stations in downtown Washington has been evacuated because of smoke. Authorities say the source of the smoke is unknown.

FILE – In this Jan. 12, 2015 file photo, firefighters begin to remove cones from the scene after people were evacuated from a smoke filled Metro subway tunnel in Washington. Federal investigators say Washington’s Metro transit authority did a poor job using ventilation fans to push smoke out of a subway tunnel during a fatal accident last month. The National Transportation Safety Board issued recommendations on Wednesday urging Metro and other transit networks nationwide to improve their ventilation procedures during smoke or fire events.

Burnt traction power cables are displayed in the Materials Laboratory at the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, from the tunnel where the Jan. 12 electrical arcing and smoke event occurred in the Washington Metro subway where a woman died.

A burnt traction power cable which was melted in half is displayed in the Materials Laboratory at the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, from the tunnel where the Jan. 12 electrical arcing and smoke event occurred in the Washington Metro subway where a woman died.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart, second from left, accompanied by accompanied by Rail Safety Division Investigator Rob Gordon, left, speaks to members of the media following a National Transportation Safety Board meeting into the probable cause of the Jan. 12, 2015 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail accident near the L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

A time-lapse video showing smoke inside the L’Enfant Plaza station is displayed as members of a safety oversight group deliver a presentation on the probable cause of the Jan. 12, 2015 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail accident near the L’Enfant Plaza during a National Transportation Safety Board meeting in Washington, Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

A list of injuries is displayed as members of a safety oversight group deliver a presentation on the probable cause of the Jan. 12, 2015 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail accident near the L’Enfant Plaza during a National Transportation Safety Board meeting in Washington, Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart, center, accompanied by accompanied by Rail Safety Division Investigator Rob Gordon, right, speaks to members of the media following a National Transportation Safety Board meeting into the probable cause of the Jan. 12, 2015 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail accident near the L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

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But the outside help left after the inauguration, which left Metro to handle the Women’s March on Washington on its own. It was all-hands-on-deck for that event as well.

Which brings us back to the original question posed by the committee and WMATA chairman: How come this was all possible for one of the biggest ridership days in system history, and not for your typical Tuesday or Friday?

“We weren’t doing any preventive maintenance,” Wiedefeld told the committee. “You have to do preventive maintenance, but we suspended it.”

Wiedefeld called it a “normal day from the perspective of the operational things we go through — it was a fairly typical day.”

But it was the only thing they were doing, which the general manager cautioned can’t be done any other day.


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