Metro riders want more help figuring out what’s busted, and when it’ll be fixed

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A reader complained that Metro didn’t provide information about weekend track work that involved closing stations and using shuttle buses between closed stations. Metro does indeed provide this information, twice a year.

If the reader checks Metro’s Web site [www.wmata.com], he’ll find that Metro has released the schedule for major weekend track work through December.

I always print out a copy and keep it handy so I can consult it when planning to go to the theater, ballgames and other events. If my travel will be disrupted, I plan accordingly. For track work that involves single-tracking with no station closings, Metro provides information weekly.

N. Jerdan, Springfield

DG: All true; in fact, we published our own clip-and-save copy of the major track work schedule on the Commuter page in The Washington Post’s Metro section June 23. And, as Jerdan points out, Metro displays each Monday the schedule for the upcoming weekend’s smaller projects, the ones that require trains to share tracks around work zones.

I’ve been writing about the work schedules recently and have noted in reader responses just how battered many transit users feel two years into a program of scheduled disruptions that will continue into 2017.

Metro is finding more and more ways to publicize the work, and that’s good. Advisories about the upcoming weekend’s projects are displayed on banners, posters and electronic signs in stations.

Because so many weekend riders use Metro only occasionally, Metro is also reaching out to organizations that sponsor weekend events so they can directly inform people about track work disruptions.

Metro should devote similar attention to telling people what all this work means. Many people don’t know what to expect when they arrive at a rail station today and, judging from my mail, they have no idea when the specific things they want to see improved by these projects will actually be improved.

Now, Metro board members and transit managers are aware of the public’s desire for this sort of results-oriented information. Last week, General Manager Richard Sarles put out a statement describing the rebuilding program’s progress improving the station escalators. Here’s an excerpt:

“Our efforts are delivering real results for riders. For five consecutive months (November through March) we exceeded our target of 89 percent ‘escalator availability’ and this statistic has been tracking consistently higher than last year and the year before.

“In March, we achieved the highest escalator availability rate of any single month since August 2008, with 92 percent of our 588 escalators in service during operating hours. Of those escalators that are out of service, about half are going through rehabilitation, and many of the others are due to activation of safety switches — which means they are working as designed.”

The statement goes on to note that Metro has replaced the escalators at Foggy Bottom and the south entrance to Dupont Circle and, by 2020, plans to replace up to 128 additional escalators systemwide.

This sort of information-sharing is good, and I hope there’s more coming. But what I’d really like to see is less focus on percentages and more focus on when the thing you see busted up now is going to be put back together, or when an aspect of transit service that now exists as a fond memory will be restored.

“We are looking at ways to do this,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said in an e-mail. “We do it for escalators and elevators (and take the hits when some of the dates slip for various reasons), because these projects are easy to define.

“Other projects, or elements of projects, are harder to define. Farragut North’s ceiling tiles are a good example. If all we were doing was changing the ceiling tiles, that would be easy. But, in reality, those ceiling tiles were down to allow access for at least three other projects that I know of.”

He cited the installation of new lighting and electrical conduits, installation of high-definition closed-circuit cameras and — most difficult of all — the shoring up of structurally deficient water and sewer mains that run across the station at mezzanine-level.

So, over several years, he said, the project has required constructing a concrete column from the platform to the main enclosure, re-encasing the mains in concrete, and other structural reinforcement work that required track shutdowns.

Because each of these projects has its own schedule, with separate contractors, and is subject to the juggling of track access times to meet the needs of a variety of programs, projecting when the ceiling tiles will go back in was challenging, he said.

(There also was a pause in work to keep the platform as clear as possible for any additional riders diverted from Dupont Circle while the south entrance escalators were rebuilt.)

Now that the cameras and lights are installed and the initial phase of structural work is done, Stessel said, the ceiling tiles should be up by the end of summer. Later, workers will return to Farragut North to do more structural work, which will be less invasive than what we’ve seen in the past two years, he said.

On other station reconstruction issues: Metro could tell riders that a station platform would be done by a certain time, Stessel said, but would that be meaningful to riders who would see work continuing on other station projects, such as new lighting or escalator replacement?

“We do wrestle with these questions, and we’re aware of the public’s interest in knowing more about progress and timelines,” Stessel said. “As we have done over the past two years, we will continue to adapt, evolve and hopefully improve.”

 
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