Metro Will Need Hundreds Of New Cars, Manager Says

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has blocked a Metro funding bill.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has blocked a Metro funding bill. (Jennifer Pitts - AP)
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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Metrorail system will exceed its capacity in 12 years unless the transit agency can buy 220 more cars to run longer trains during morning and afternoon rush hours, agency officials said yesterday.

Even if cash-strapped Metro is able to come up with the estimated $660 million needed to buy the additional cars, the agency would still need to consider adding a Potomac River crossing between Rosslyn and Georgetown to accommodate the nearly 1 million passengers who officials project will be riding the subway on an average weekday by 2030. That's about 250,000 more people crowding onto trains over the next two decades.

"More people than ever before are relying on Metro for their travel needs," General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said yesterday.

The ridership forecasts are scheduled to be presented to board members next week.

On Thursday, as tens of thousands of people rode the subway to attend the papal Mass at Nationals Park, Metrorail recorded its third-highest weekday ridership in history, with 828,418 trips. Weekday ridership this month has topped more than 800,000 trips on two other days, during the Cherry Blossom Festival and the home opener for the Washington Nationals. Average weekday ridership is typically 725,000 to 750,000 trips.

Based on job and household growth projections from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Metro has forecast 1.4 percent annual growth in ridership from 2005 to 2030, officials said. That means ridership is expected to grow 42 percent in that period, reaching a weekday average of 970,000 trips in 2030.

The challenge of squeezing all those new passengers onto trains and moving them through stations will not only test Metro's ability to serve the region. If the transit system cannot meet the demand, riders will probably abandon the subway for the region's roadways, which are already overburdened.

The 32-year-old system has reached the point at which many components must be refurbished or replaced. Catoe already has identified $489 million in urgent unfunded capital repairs and will outline a comprehensive 10-year capital plan to the board in July.

Catoe said he hopes to address Metro's strategy for funding all its needs during budget discussions in the weeks ahead.

Metro has enough money to operate every other train as an eight-car train during peak periods by spring 2009. Currently, every fifth train is eight cars long during rush periods; the others are six-car trains. The agency has been relying on its newest batch of rail cars to run longer trains.

If the agency is unable to expand the fleet, several rail lines will approach or exceed capacity by 2020. Metro planners assume that the Dulles rail extension, which is on hold, will be built but that if it is not, the basic needs for additional capacity remain the same, officials said.

To meet ridership demand, Metro needs 75 percent of its trains to run with eight cars during the peak period by 2015 and 100 percent to run with eight cars by 2020.

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