Metro trying to fix Red Line water problems

A train at Farragut North. (Luz Lazo – The Washington Post) (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)

Metro officials said they are looking at how to fix a water leakage problem at the Medical Center station on the Red Line, and one of the possibilities is to shut down a portion of the heavily traveled line for weeks.

The news was first reported by NBC4, which said Metro was considering shutting down a portion of the Red Line.

But Metro officials were quick to point out that they have released no definite decisions on how to fix the problem or whether they will shut down portions of the Red  Line in that area to deal with the problem.

“Our engineers are discussing a range of long-term solutions,” Morgan Dye, a spokesman for Metro, said Friday afternoon.

The problem is at the Medical Center stop, where “constant water and filtration” is coming in, she said. “We’re having to pump out water and drudge and clean” the area, she said,  “to keep the switches dry.”

Metro uses a $7.8 million machine known as a track geometry vehicle (TGV), which looks like a rail car, to help it find problems in the track. It has used the machine to uncover issues with water and other potential defects like cracked rails. The TGV has cameras and equipment on it that allows it to measure the temperature of  the tracks, among other things. It can also take video of the track beds and tunnels. Metro had previously leased a similar machine but is able to check its tracks more often now that it owns one, officials said.

The Post’s Dana Hedgpeth has ridden on the track geometry vehicle, and in that ride, Rob Troup – Metro’s number two – explained that water can harm the rails via corrosion. The geology of the area around Medical Center has caused “a lot of pressure in the tunnels,” officials said. At the time she rode the  track geometry vehicle through the stretch at Medical Center with Troup, Richard Sarles (the head of Metro) and other technicians, the tunnel area had little to no water. “This isn’t bad,” Troup said. “This looks good.”

But workers have had to deal with water there.

The possibility of shutting down a busy section of the Red Line sends fear through many riders. The Medical Center has an estimated 6,200 riders boarding there each weekday.

Other transit agencies have made the decision to shut down portions of their lines for major work. In Chicago, officials shut down a 10-mile portion to fix tracks and other problems.

“That would be the extreme,” said Metro spokesman Phil Stewart about possibly shutting down part of the Red Line to fix the water problems.

Dana Hedgpeth is a Post reporter, working the early morning, reporting on traffic, crime and other local issues.

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Dana Hedgpeth · August 23, 2013