August 27, 2013

ON A typical weekday, Metro says, roughly 40,000 customers travel the Red Line between Medical Center and Friendship Heights, making these three miles among the rail system’s most heavily used. The possibility of an extended closure to perform repairsunderstandably upsets those whose lives would be disrupted. We hope Metro officials are serious when they say they are exploring options with less onerous repercussions and that closing these critical stations would be the absolute last resort.

Metro engineers are studying more permanent solutions to what’s been a long-standing problem of water seeping into the tunnelalong this section. These leaks corrode equipment, allow mud to build up around switches and tracks and lead to arcing insulators, which cause service interruptions. Metro’s response to what officials stress is a maintenance, not safety, issue has been ongoing pumping, dredging and replacing of equipment.

“It requires constant effort, along with single-tracking during evenings and weekends, just to maintain the status quo,” a Metro spokesman told The Post’s Dana Hedgpeth in explaining the need for a longer-term solution. One possibility would be to reline the tunnel to block water infiltration (such technology was not available when the tunnel was built), but that fix could not be finished in a single weekend and might mean a long-term shutdown.

Metro officials stressed that no decision has been made. Engineers are studying the situation; their recommendations are not expected for another four or six months, with the decision at least a year away. The process will include consultations with District and Montgomery County officials whose jurisdictions would be most affected.

“We want to do what best serves our customers. . . . We don’t like inconveniencing anyone,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel told us. That’s good to hear, but Metro riders have learned the hard way — be it with escalators that never seem to get fixed or public announcements so garbled as to be useless — that there is a disconnect between what Metro promises and what it delivers. By fixing the problems on the Red Line with the least disruption, Metro will have the opportunity to do more than repair a tunnel; it will have a chance to rebuild public confidence.