ROCKVILLE – The project manager of SafeTrack, Metro’s year-long program of repairing the aging rail system, said the program has fixed the worst parts of the system but Metro has more work to do.
Laura Mason, SafeTrack project manager, used a comparison from Board Chairman D.C. Council member Jack Evans and described the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to a sick patient.
“I think we’ve stabilized the system, so I think how our chairman of the board (Evans) has put it is, the patient was very, very sick,” Mason said at Rockville Station June 21. “We’ve done surgery – we’ve repaired sections, we still have a long ways to go. We still need to do physical therapy, we need to eat well, and maintain our health, so we’ve taken care of the worst sixteen areas.”
Metro has finished SafeTrack by returning to a section of the Red Line it addressed in August. The previous Red Line project included rail tie replacement, repairing cables and other power equipment and removing “vegetation and trash,” which can cause fires, according to Metro.
The most recent SafeTrack project, ended Sunday, and focused on replacing the wooden rail ties and replacing metal rail fasteners.
Mason pointed to a pile of old and rotted rail tiles next to the track at the Rockville Station, saying most of the wooden rail ties between the two stations are original, meaning they are more than 20 years old.
Mason said old rail ties were the primary factor in the SafeTrack shutdowns at Rockville and Shady Grove stations and Metro decided to opt for a SafeTrack shutdown rather than single-tracking trains because of the long hours it would take to repair the rail ties.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Metro is started a preventative maintenance program, meaning taking care of the system rather than deferring maintenance repeatedly until crews have to make emergency repairs.
Starting June 25, Metro will have fewer hours of late night service, giving crews enough hours to test the rails for power problems that cause smoke in tunnels. It caused smoke near Gallery Place and Metro Center Stations, resulting in three shutdowns in two weeks earlier this year.
Wiedefeld has said fiscal year 2018 (which starts June 25) will be the first time in Metro history that specialists are testing the running rails, on which the trains operate, for this power problem.
Also in fiscal year 2018, Metro will replace three crossovers – which are required for single-tracking – one on the Red Line, one on the Yellow Line and one on the Green Line.
The replacements will require station shutdowns lasting a total of 10 weekdays each. Wiedefeld said he decided to replace the crossovers, also known as interlockings, because they are due for replacement. He did not want to use a “Band-Aid” approach.
“The interlockings, they age out and they wear out, and so these things were coming due; and maybe historically we just sort of Band-Aid through it, and we’re not doing that,” Wiedefeld said June 21.
Wiedfeld said he learned from SafeTrack that Metro needs more time in the day when no trains are operating, so workers can perform tests, and that taking care of the system costs money.
Wiedefeld said he learned “that basically we cannot get back into this situation again; you have to keep ahead of this. If not, we slip right back into the same condition. And it takes both time, which we’re getting started June 25, and it also takes dollars.”
Neal Earley contributed to this story.