Regional leaders pledge more money for Metro


Metro’s initial orders of new rail cars meet the needs of the Silver Line and replace old cars, but don’t add rush hour capacity in the system’s core. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Metro transit leaders on Wednesday scored some of the cash they need to carry out the ambitious goals for rail and bus service in the next decade.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced after a regional summit in Arlington County that they are collectively committed to giving the transit authority an additional $75 million beyond pledges already made for Metro’s long-term projects.

The Post’s Mike DeBonis reports that McAuliffe said the leaders “agreed in principle” to providing the funds, subject to the will of lawmakers in the three regional jurisdictions. McAuliffe said the new money should serve as proof of the local commitment to Metro and should lead federal authorities to authorize additional funds for the system.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles called it a “terrific day” and made note that this is a new funding commitment, over and above the capital funding pledged to bring the system into a “state of good repair.”

“That remains undiminished,” Sarles said. “This is on top of it.”

In a statement after the summit, the transit authority characterized the new commitment as a “down payment” on such popular goals as providing riders with all-eight-car trains at rush hours.

Winning such commitments from local leaders has become a top priority for Sarles. For the past several years, Sarles has pushed a wide-ranging and costly rebuilding program to restore Metro following years of inadequate investment in maintenance. That aggressive rebuilding phase will continue into 2017.


Metro General Manager Richard Sarles (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

But over the past year, Sarles has stressed the importance of looking beyond the rebuilding, toward increasing the capacity of the system to accommodate more riders. That program, known as Metro 2025, has many expensive elements, but at the top of the list is expansion of the rail car fleet to the point where all trains at the peak periods on weekdays can be eight-cars long. Today’s rail system has a mix of six-car and eight-car trains at rush hours, and many of them are packed to the point where riders must pass up a train or two before they can squeeze on.

“Our jurisdictions stepping up to the plate, committing $25 million each … is a very strong sign to the federal government that the region is working together,” McAuliffe said. “We have issues because these rail cars are so full today. We need these eight car trains.”​

Buying more rail cars is only part of the expense. The transit authority also must upgrade its power system to move those trains, and it must expand its storage yards to accommodate the extra rail cars.

The $75 million commitment helps advance the Metro 2025 program, but provides no guarantee that the goal of eight-car trains or any of the other goals in Metro 2025, will be reached. That will require further commitments by the jurisdictions that finance the transit authority.

Last year, Metro provided a list of the 2025 goals, along with some preliminary estimates on costs:

  • Full eight-car train service at a cost of $2 billion. That would increase capacity at peak hours in the peak direction by 35 percent. But there are consequences. For example, unloading eight-car train after eight-car train at Gallery Place-Chinatown would further worsen crowding on the Red Line platform — something that also would need to be dealt with by 2025.
  • Complete the Metrobus Priority Corridor Network for $600 million. Rapid-transit bus service along 24 corridors, sometimes along bus-only lanes, could add 100,000 riders to the regional bus system and reduce traffic.
  • Improve capacity and train movement in Metrorail’s core for $1 billion. Pedestrian tunnels connecting Metro Center to Gallery Place and Farragut North to Farragut West would reduce train-to-train transfers.
  • Improve trip-planning information in the region for $400 million. Make Metro a completely “self-service system,” Kannan said.
  • Add switches and side tracks for $500 million. These would increase Metro’s flexibility in moving around trains and easing crowding.
  • Prepare for bus-service growth in emerging corridors for $500 million. This would add about 400 buses and a garage.
  • Increase rail service between Pentagon and Rosslyn for $1 billion. This could be done by redesigning track connections or building a separate station in Rosslyn.

These goals would be financed through Metro’s capital budget, the long-range spending program for big-ticket purchases. The proposed fare increases, which were the subject of the recent Metro hearings, would help finance Metro’s daily operations as part of the annual operating budget.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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