The hundreds of thousands of people who normally take Metro to school and work turned to cars, bicycles and buses Wednesday morning as the rail system shut down for an emergency inspection of 600 electrical cables, two days after one of them caused a fire that crippled the system.
Thousands of drivers set out before daybreak, hoping to beat a rush hour they feared would be among the worst in memory. Some arteries that move swiftly before dawn on any other weekday were thick with vehicles before 6 a.m.
“We’re preparing for the worst,” said Jennifer McCord, a spokeswoman at Virginia’s Department of Transportation.
The anticipated turmoil caused by shutting down the country’s second-busiest rail system was unlike any other. In the past, when heavy snow or hurricane remnants have slowed or halted subway service, everything else in Washington was at a standstill. On Wednesday, however, federal and other offices were open for business and most schools planned a normal day.