Metro Investigations (First in a series): Broken Promises - Bad Dreams
Metro managers still struggling with a broken unsafe rail system
While the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority claims Metrorail services is getting “Back 2 Good” a four month long investigation by The Sentinel newspapers shows the Metro system is still suffering from a laundry list of ills – including more than 100 safety deficiencies.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in June SafeTrack – WMATA’s yearlong effort to rehabili- tate its services was finished and three years worth of repairs were done in just a year. But Federal Transit Administration officials say there is still a list of 109 safety deficiencies that are past due.
“The mindset at the supervisor level and down is they really don’t do nothing unless they're specially directed to do it,” a former management level WMATA employee said. “They could walk right over something that was broke and not fix it because they were not told to do it.”
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’s general manager told the Metro Board of Directors’ finance committee that budget shortfalls may lead the public transit system back to the jurisdictions to ask for more money.
Board Chairman and D.C. Council member Jack Evans as well as Board member Michael Goldman have said they believe Metro will have to raise fares and reduce service, as Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld had proposed, for the FY 2018 budget because Metro needs the money.
Wiedefeld said Metro hopes to close the FY 2017 budget gap but that it might not be enough.
"The reality is, we are very close to (debt),” Wiedefeld said.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority released its schedule for the remaining SafeTrack surges, adding a Red Line project and removing numbers from the major surges.
Riders can expect a combination of reduced service and either round-the-clock single-tracked trains or continuous station shutdowns requiring shuttle buses.
Metro suspended SafeTrack Safety surges, which affect rush hour travel, in January because of the inauguration and due to potential wintry weather, according to a Metro news release. Maintenance work instead has been occurring during midday and evening hours.
Metro riders on alternating lines will continue to experience delays to midday and evening service due to various maintenance projects that occur during those parts of the day.
The Federal Transit Administration and the Maryland Transit Administration restated in a motion filed Dec. 16 that they believe Metro ridership and safety issues won’t jeopardize Purple Line ridership numbers.
Metro leadership is pushing heavy for moving forward in 2017.
This comes after a very turbulent year of problems in 2016 which included the following problems:
Congress grills Metro managers on ills
WASHINGTON – Members of Congress pointed fingers at witnesses called to testify about Metro’s SafeTrack program Friday, including a federal safety official, Metro’s board chairman and a Metro union representative.
"How many more people have to die before we get you to act?" Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) asked Federal Transit Administration Executive Director Matthew Welbes.
After hosting a public hearing and analyzing survey responses, Metro staffers said Monday they recommend Metro close at 11:30 p.m. on weekdays, half an hour earlier than its current closing time of midnight.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Metro needs to reduce its hours of service to allow more time for crews to perform maintenance and inspect tracks.
Otherwise, he said Metro will develop another backlog of deferred maintenance.
“We cannot get through (SafeTrack) and then go back to business as normal,” Wiedefeld told the Metro Board of Directors in July.
Dozens of Metrorail riders had to take a shuttle bus to travel past Forest Glen station on the Red Line toward D.C. Friday, but it wasn’t due to SafeTrack or unscheduled track work.
A deer was seen wandering on the tracks between the Forest Glen station and Silver Spring Transit Center as of 10:30 a.m. so Metro shut down that section of track, spokesperson Richard Jordan said.
“We’re kind of just waiting on it to move along on its own,” Jordan said.