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Metro Red Line caught on fire three times in one day, but WMATA says it's getting better

Metro insists the transit system is on the upswing, cutting track fires by more than half since it was in its worse state of repair.

WASHINGTON — It was a Tuesday three-peat of Metro track problems on the Red Line. Riders were slowed down—even stranded on dark trains—after multiple problems with the electrical system that powers trains. Track insulators arced three times throughout the day, producing the dramatic flash and ensuing smoke captured on camera back in 2016.

"There was a moment of panic," Joe Twinem said, after taking video of his dark train stuck near Tenleytown Metro on Tuesday morning, showing a smoky haze filling the car.

"It really brings into question whether or not we should be trusting Metro," Twinem said. 

The transit agency insists it is getting better, cutting track fires by more than half since Metro was in its worst state of repair. There were 65 such fires in 2016, according to Metro, followed by 54 in 2017 and 22 arcing insulator fires in 2018. 

WUSA9 is analyzing Metro daily service reports to find how many times insulators arced this year.

RELATED: Metro Red line suspended again after smoke reported on tracks twice in one day

"These are the things on the margins that really have an impact on D.C. commuters," Twinem said. 

The Red Line is the system’s oldest line. Metro acknowledges that rain is its biggest weakness. Water seeps into tunnels and meets with the electrified third rail. Some of the Red Line has been waterproofed, but Metro said the area near Tuesday’s fires has not. 

RELATED: How Metro cut track fires by more than half

After Tuesday’s incidents, Metro told its track inspectors to look at all insulators on the Red Line. They had orders to replace any that needed it. Metro says 36 were replaced. 

But to Joe Twinem, the entire system needs attention.

"Just because you’re solving the big issues that Metro faces doesn’t mean these small issues that affect the day to day lives don’t matter," Twinem said. "They need to be addressed in a purposeful way and not just as an aside to dealing with everything else."

Here’s a timeline of Metro arcing insulator incidents on Tuesday, according to Metro’s daily service reports:

  • 8:42 a.m.: A Glenmont-bound Red Line train approaching Tenleytown reported an arcing insulator. As a result, Red Line service was suspended between Friendship Heights and Van Ness. Shuttle bus service was provided. Several trains were offloaded and turned back for schedule adherence/improved train spacing. Customers experienced delays up to 60 minutes until approximately 10 a.m.

  • 4:29 p.m.: A Shady Grove-bound Red Line train at Dupont Circle was offloaded due to a report of an arcing insulator outside Woodley Park. As a result, Red Line service was suspended between Dupont Circle and Van Ness stations. Shuttle bus service was provided. Several trains were offloaded and turned back for schedule adherence/improved train spacing. Customers experienced delays up to 30 minutes until approximately 6 p.m.

  • 6:20 p.m.: A Shady Grove-bound Red Line train at Van Ness-UDC was offloaded due to a report of an arcing insulator. As a result, Red Line trains were single tracked between Friendship Heights and Van Ness stations. Customers experienced delays up to 20 minutes until approximately 7:30 p.m.

RELATED: Track fire closes Red line between Van Ness, Friendship Heights

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