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“We Just Deal With It”

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Second in a series)

Metro workers say many are afraid to report safety problems

Metro entranceWASHINGTON, D.C. — Metro union workers claim Metro management is the biggest problem in guaranteeing safety.

According to Raymond Jackson, who represents Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Metro workers say they are afraid to report safety problems because supervisors react negatively when they do. Jackson, executive vice president of Local 689, said instances in which Metro workers fail to report safety concerns occur often, and they are more frequent than most realize. For many, not reporting safety issues is becoming second-nature.

“We’ve been dealing with it for so long, we just deal with it,” Jackson said. “You just deal with per se not working safe.”

ATU Local 689 spokesperson David Stephen said the union would not violate Metro policy through facilitating interviews for a reporter with frontline workers. 

“It is against their company policy,” Stephen said. “They can be fired for that. You’re asking our members to speak to you so they can get fired. I will not, absolutely not do that.”

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Metro faces severe budget trouble

metro logoWith ridership continuing to decline, revenues from fares also decreasing despite rate increases and at least a half a dozen pending lawsuits with claims of one million dollars or more, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority trains continue to chug along, in part, thanks to an influx of government money.

“A primary cause of Metro’s current budget challenge is the decline in rail ridership. Total rail ridership peaked in 2009 and has stagnated or declined each year since then,” Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA General Manager/CEO, wrote in his executive summary of this year’s Fiscal Budget, which began July 1.

The $3.1 billion FY 2018 proposed budget includes $1.8 billion for operations and has more expenses than income in the 186 page-budget. Money for operations includes $841 million from fares, parking and advertising, and another $976 million from government funding from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Metro’s total operating budget is very dependent upon the government, noted a spokesman from the National Society of Accountants, who reviewed recent budgets for the Sentinel.

“This thing is bleeding, but it is propped up by government funds,” the spokesman said. “There has been a substantial drop in the use of the Metro.”

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Metro has history of major problems

metro logoThe latest problems regarding safety on the Metrorail is but the latest in a long line of safety problems that go back decades – some say since the very beginning of the Metrorail system.

Others who’ve worked for Metro say getting repairs or any work done was a “constant battle,” with plenty of blame available to go around as to the cause.

In December 2009, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Metro’s state-level safety oversight body which FTA later replaced, published a report that detailed an extensive list of workplace safety violations and a lack of a safety culture at WMATA.

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More Than 100 Violations

Metro Investigations (First in a series): Broken Promises - Bad Dreams

Metro managers still struggling with a broken unsafe rail system

Metro entranceWhile 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.”

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Wile E. Coyote and the Metro rider

MC DC Wile E. Coyotes Acme Purchases Better Than Metro in BWThere is little doubt the Metrorail system is in desperate need of repair.
Despite a “Safetrack” plan by Metro to bring Metro “Back 2 Good” and despite all the inhouse ads on Metro touting its increased efforts to fix escalators, tracks, bring new metro rail cars online and clean up the metro stations, the federal government recently outlined more than 100 deficiencies the system still faces.
We at The Sentinel decided it was best since our readers are some of the most frequent Metro riders as they go to and from work, to take a close look at the Metro system.

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Shutdown of four Red Line Metro stations Labor Day weekend

  • Published in Local

Trains to follow Sunday schedule on Labor Day

metro logoMetro riders must board shuttles on part of the Red Line through Monday to allow for the continuation of a waterproofing pilot program to reduce leaks in tunnels and for maintenance work, spokesperson Ron Holzer said.

Holzer said the shutdown is scheduled for Sept. 2 through 4 and Sept. 9 and Sept. 10.

Buses replace trains between Twinbrook and Friendship Heights stations through closing Monday, officials said in a news release. White Flint, Grosvenor-Strathmore, Medical Center and Bethesda stations will be closed through Monday.

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Purple Line clears legal step

  • Published in Local

A week after a panel of federal judges granted a stay, giving the paused Purple Line project new life, the County Council gave the go-ahead to the state transit administration to start work on the project.

On July 24, the Council approved a franchise agreement to allow the Maryland Transit Administration to build, operate and maintain the Purple Line in County owned right-of-ways. The unanimous agreement by the Council clears a legal step by giving the MTA the franchise agreement and authority to start working on the project on County-owned land.

The County will not charge the MTA for the new 70-year franchise agreement, citing “public benefits” for the project. Most of the County-owned land that the franchise agreement covers is in the Georgetown Branch area, a strip of land between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

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State senator defends future frontline Metro workers’ pensions

  • Published in Local

GAITHERSBURG – A state senator representing Montgomery County on Thursday defended pensions for future Metro employee pensions, which the general manager proposed replacing with fixed contribution, and suggested changes for state funding of Metro.

State Sen. Richard Madaleno (D- 18) said after a news conference Thursday he believes the presence of pensions and sufficient benefits improves Metro workers’ performance in their jobs.

Madaleno cited a 2015 article by Justin Wolfers and Jan Zilinsky of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who said, on the basis of numerous studies, that workers with higher wages and pensions were likely to perform better as employees because they were happier.

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Metro taking leaks seriously on Red Line

  • Published in Local

metro logoMetro is testing a way to waterproof a group of Red Line stations, but the pilot requires single-tracking on weeknights and station shutdowns on weekends for the next four weeks.

Metro spokesperson Richard Jordan said Metro awarded the waterproofing contract for $4.9 million.

Red Line riders will continue to see single-tracking, which began June 10, Monday through Friday after 9 p.m. for the next three weeks, as well as four consecutive weekend shutdowns starting Saturday so that Metro and its unnamed contractor can make progress on installing the waterproofing.

Metro Board of Directors member Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said Wiedefeld briefed him prior to announcing the pilot. The pilot was under Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s discretion so he didn’t consult the Board for approval.

“As he presented it, we have a major problem there which was a cause of major outages,” Goldman said matter-of-factly. “It’s caused a hell of a lot of delays on the Red Line.”

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Metro GM addresses Council concerns

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Council members wonder about Red Line delays, Metro contractor use and "dedicated funding"

Metro repairs 2Passengers await the next train on the Red Line at Bethesda Metro station during SafeTrack last year.   FILE PHOTO  ROCKVILLE -- Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld answered questions from the Montgomery County Council about Red Line service, use of contractors and financial contributions from the jurisdictions on which Metro would be able to sell debt.

County Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) asked when Metro will fix the Red Line in terms of water leaking into stations such as Medical Center and Bethesda. County Council member Tom Hucker (D-5) said some of his constituents have asked why delays occur on the Red Line for problems such as electrical arcing, which can cause smoke, though Metro finished its year-long repair program SafeTrack a few days before.

Red Line service delays occurred during the Friday morning rush hour service.  Metro attributed it to two arcing insulators, which hold the power source third rail above the ground.

Hucker asked Wiedefeld what he would say to riders.

Wiedefeld said track repairs and projects during SafeTrack were different from problems that cause arcing insulators.

“The Red Line is totally different than SafeTrack,” Wiedefeld said.

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