Metro’s Red Line riders can expect years of inconvenience


Relief for Red Line riders isn’t coming soon, Metro says. (Bonnie Jo Mount/WASHINGTON POST)
February 2, 2012

Red Line riders won’t get any relief soon.

That was the message from Metro officials Thursday as they warned that passengers on the system’s busiest line can expect years of inconvenience.

Metro also detailed a need to hire 877 more workers to fix and maintain the aging system and operate new service.

Even after new track circuits and switches are installed on the Red Line over the next three years — safety upgrades recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board — Metro officials said there will be a “steady stream of maintenance” that will involve shutdowns and single-tracking.

The hiring would come as the agency faces a $116 million shortfall in its fiscal 2013 budget, expects to raise fares and asks local jurisdictions for larger subsidies. Metro plans to hold public hearings on its budget this month and next.

At Thursday’s finance committee meeting, board member Mary Hynes, an alternate from Arlington County, questioned what appears to be a lack of progress.

“The real question on people’s mind is when is my ride going to get better?” she said. “Three years kind of makes me gasp.”

According to officials and board members, Metro has for years neglected repairs and maintenance, and it downsized its engineering workforce.

“We didn’t have enough people, and we didn’t have enough funds,” said Rob Troup, assistant general manager of Metro’s transit infrastructure and engineering services division.

For example, there is a backlog of about 75,000 rail ties — equipment that supports the rails — that need to be replaced, he said.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles had said in January that the authority would need to fill 1,017 new positions to operate the new Silver Line and for other needs. But Metro officials revised that number to 877 on Thursday.

The number changed because Metro plans to contract out 60 escalator maintenance jobs to help fix equipment on the Orange Line and it miscalculated 76 spots, said Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman.

Some board members have expressed doubts that Metro can hire that many people quickly.

Gary Baldwin, Metro’s human resources chief, called the 800-plus hires for this year a “very heavy lift” and explained to the board that he is beefing up his recruitment and hiring team and partnering with local employment offices.

More than 350 of Metro’s new hires are for the Silver Line, extending service from Falls Church to Reston, and 250 positions are for capital reconstruction projects. Nearly 200 are for maintaining the rail system, and more than 50 would be new Metro Transit Police officers.

Meanwhile, the Senate Banking Committee approved a measure Thursday that would authorize the Transportation Department to set safety standards for transit systems across the country. The Obama administration proposed federal oversight of subways and light rail systems after the deadly crash on the Red Line in 2009, but the legislation never advanced.

The authority would be granted as part of the transportation bill being debated in Congress.

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