Metro will shut down some service this weekend for major track work

Metro plans to shut down some service on its rail lines for almost every weekend during the next 11 months as it tries to speed up maintenance and repairs.

Instead of single-tracking trains for large-scale projects, Metro will now close stations — or use buses to shuttle riders between open-rail stations.

“This is about minimizing the impact of major track work projects,” said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

Currently, when work is done in the two-track system, he said, trains operating in both directions take turns using one track so that crews can work on the other one. That affects “service from one end of the line to the other,” he said.

“Trains can’t run as frequently because there’s less capacity,” Stessel said. “We could be doing a track work project in Twinbrook, but people going from Silver Spring to Union Station feel the effects of that.”

“By isolating the work zone . . . we’ll have near normal service on the rest of the line,” he said.

December is the only month when work is not scheduled.

The new approach is part of Metro’s aggressive $5 billion capital improvement push to rehab the aging rail system. Officials said the new strategy will allow Metro to finish replacing track circuits along the Red Line — a recommendation of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)which blamed track circuit failures for the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine and injured dozens. The work should now be completed by the summer of 2012, instead of late 2013, Stessel said.

Replacing the track circuits must be done before Metro can return to running trains in automatic mode. Since the accident, trains have been controlled by operators, rather than onboard computers.

The newly released work calendar shows the dates certain stations or parts of lines will be closed, details the type of work that will be done and describes the bus services that will be available.

The schedule begins with work this weekend and next on the Orange Line between East Falls Church and West Falls Church stations, which will remain open. However, buses will carry passengers between the two stops.

The first stations that are scheduled to be closed under the new approach are Medical Center, Grosvenor, White Flint and Twinbrook on the Red Line during the weekend of Aug. 6-7.

Metro has shut down entire stations before in the last few years, especially on three-day holiday weekends, to do major track work and replace switches, which guide trains from one track to another.

Stessel said this approach, used on most three-day weekends this year, is “better because the work gets done faster and safer.”

“You can take both tracks out of service and work can take place on both tracks concurrently,” he said. “When we single-track, the workers have to clear a safe distance away when trains come through so you have fits and starts.

“There’s more risk involved with doing track work with trains moving by.”

There will be some single-tracking for smaller projects, Metro said.

Releasing the schedule early gives riders more time to plan alternate ways of travel, a Metro official said.

“We want our customers, community groups and other stakeholders to have as much advance notice as possible of the major projects we plan to undertake in the next year,” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said in a statement.

Metro said other work will be done during closures, too, including powerwashing and cleaning, repairing platforms, changing light bulbs, and installing cellphone cables and equipment to expand service in the underground sections of the system.

“We’re going to squeeze as much work out of each of these projects as is safely and humanly possible,” Stessel said.

The track work calendar is available online at wmata.com/trackwork

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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