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Washington Metro to Close for Safety Inspections

An aide to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld (l) holds up a photo of a track damaged by fire as Wiedefeld speaks during a news conference to announce that the DC Metrorail service will be shut down for a full day, at the Washington Metropolitan Area Tr

Washington, D.C.'s entire subway system will be shut down all day Wednesday for emergency electric cable inspections - a move certain to create chaos in a city that depends on its Metro.

This is the first time in the system's 40-year history that it will be closed down for non-weather related reasons. The DC Metro is the nation's second-largest subway system, after New York City, with 188 kilometers of track.

Metro officials made the decision to close after an electrical fire in a train tunnel Monday delayed service on three separate lines. A similar fire in another tunnel last year filled a train with choking smoke and killed a passenger.

Metro's chief Paul Wiedefeld said he wanted to avoid another potential life-threatening incident.

"When I say safety is our highest priority, I mean it. That sometimes means making tough, unpopular decisions and this is one of those times. I fully recognize the hardship this will cause."

Hundred of thousands of federal workers and others depend on Metro every day to get from their suburban homes to downtown offices. Tourists also rely on the subway to get them around the city, which is known to be confusing for drivers and where convenient parking is a luxury.

Federal officials are yet to decide whether to grant employees an unscheduled day off or allow them to work from home if possible.

Passengers and local politicians have long complained about Washington's Metro for unreliable service, constant breakdowns, and slow response from subway officials.