A corroded running rail in the Metro Red Line tunnel near Medical Center station Credit: Via Metro

Monday morning brought two more reports of smoking insulators on the Metro tracks below Bethesda and Chevy Chase, marking at least the fifth and sixth times since April 7 that firefighters have been called to the problematic section of the Red Line.

Because of well-chronicled leaking problems in the Red Line tunnel from south of the Grosvenor-Strathmore station to Friendship Heights, Metro is planning to shut down the section for 14 weekends in the summer or fall of 2016 to make repairs.

Despite the apparent uptick in reports of smoking insulators, a Metro spokesperson said Monday that the transit system can’t move up the scheduled $12.2 million repairs, which will bring a new drainage system and precast concrete arch with waterproofing.

“There is no ability to speed up scheduled Red Line construction, given the amount of engineering and prefabrication that must occur to support the project,” Metro spokesperson Michael Tolbert said.

The arcing insulators, which frequently cause smoke, can occur when water or other material makes contact with the track’s electrified third rail.

The incidents often result in single tracking, as Monday’s smoking insulator near the Friendship Heights station did in the thick of rush hour – from 8:30 to 9 a.m.


At 9:23 a.m., Montgomery County firefighters reported to a separate report of smoke caused by an arcing insulator in the tunnel closer to the Bethesda station. That incident led to minimal delays.

An arcing insulator was to blame for the January incident outside the L’Enfant Plaza station in which one woman died after being on a train that filled with smoke.

Firefighters last responded May 19 to the Red Line tunnel near Bethesda. The incident was serious enough for Metro to close the Bethesda station for about 30 minutes. At 7:15 a.m. that day, Metro reopened the station but only trains traveling toward Washington, D.C., were allowed to stop there.


Metro officials never said what caused those delays.

On April 7, an arcing insulator in the tunnel between the Bethesda and Medical Center stations led to a fire department response and single tracking. On April 14, firefighters were called to the Bethesda station for an arcing insulator about 200 feet north of the station’s platform.

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