Metro Names New Rail Chief

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007

Metro executives named a new rail chief and fired a senior manager yesterday in the first of a series of steps intended to improve the reliability of the nation's second-

busiest subway system, agency officials said.

"I'm not satisfied that the energy and the focus and the commitment has been there to fix the issues that we have," General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said.

The move comes at a time when customer complaints about train delays, especially on the Red Line, which has the most riders, have soared. Yesterday's announcement also follows a week of public hearings about the largest increases the Metro board has ever proposed for rail fares and parking fees. One hundred and fifty riders spoke out against the increases at six hearings this week, saying that Metro should not expect customers to pay more until it provides better service.

Catoe, who attended three hearings and regularly rides the buses and trains, said he understood and agreed.

"There have been far too many delays over the past few months, many of them caused by something as simple as trash catching fire on the tracks," he said in a message sent to all transit employees yesterday. "These are things that are preventable, and if we can prevent it, we need to. . . . The fact is, our customers should be getting better service."

From Aug. 1 to Nov. 15, the number of complaints about train delays doubled to 600 from about 300 for the same period last year, Catoe noted. "That represents a real problem," he said.

Catoe has been particularly unhappy with what he said was the lack of an "aggressive campaign" to replace aging track components, such as insulators and bolts. The components are connected to the electric third rail and can overheat, causing the surrounding rubber coating to smoke and burn. The system has more than 1 million insulators and bolts, officials said. Some of the smoke and fire incidents that crippled much of the system for two nights in late August were caused by worn insulators and bolts.

According to a Washington Post analysis, there were 38 service disruptions in the last two and a half months that were caused by reports of smoke or fire, more than four times the number in the same period last year.

Overall, the subway system had 826 service problems this fall, a 37 percent increase over last fall, even as the agency had more new rail cars to put out on the tracks. The Red Line had the most disruptions, 282, according to Metro statistics. That is 34 percent of the total.

Systemwide, mechanical problems with train doors, brakes and propulsion accounted for 40 percent of service disruptions.

Metro named Dave J. Kubicek to be assistant general manager for rail. He will be responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the 106-mile system, which has 86 stations and over 1,000 rail cars.

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