Wednesday’s shutdown is a precaution to avoid a repeat scenario from last year, when a smoke incident resulted in the death of one passenger and sent scores to the hospital. Hundreds of thousands of commuters, schoolchildren and other people made new plans to get around Wednesday. The transportation officials said they acted because they feared for the safety of passengers and because they need to deliver a safe and reliable service on the 40-year-old rail system. “When I say safety is our highest priority, I mean it. That sometimes means making tough, unpopular decisions, and this is one of those, for sure. I fully recognize the hardship this will cause,” general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, said to the media. The Office of Personnel Management granted all federal agencies in the region the option to allow employees to take unscheduled leave or telework. Tardies and absences will automatically count as excused.