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Accident Raises Issues Over Funding for Metro

Two Red Line Metrorail trains crashed June 22, 2009 between the Fort Totten and Takoma Park stations, killing nine, including one train operator.

Zimmerman referred to what he called the "absurdity" of comments from a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board pointing to a lack of action on the board's recommendation after a 2004 crash that older trains be swiftly phased out or retrofitted with stronger frames.

"Everybody knows that the 1000 Series needs to be replaced. We've been talking about it for years," Zimmerman said, referring to Metro's oldest rail cars, bought in the 1970s. "It's precisely the reason you need additional funding," he said, noting that about 300 remain in service and that replacing them would take roughly $1 billion and several years.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation. Still, Davis said he sees a link between funding and safety.

"The money here would make a huge difference, in lives saved and everything else," he said.

Connolly said the system needs new money "to make sure it can continue to meet the demands of a growing region and be safe."

Funding shortfalls have meant making tradeoffs, but not on safety, Zimmerman said. Riders want more trains, he said. They want to be able to sit down. They want to travel quickly.

"We don't have enough money to run the system at the level people expect here," Zimmerman said. That has meant sacrificing convenience and amenities. But "safety comes first. In my experience, people don't ever skimp on safety," he said.

Metro's priorities and management have been at issue before, including among opponents of additional funding such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). His concerns haven't dissipated after Monday's events, a spokesman said.

During the final year of the Bush administration, federal transportation officials questioned Metro's ability to pay for needed upkeep, given its expansion plans.

The issue arose over whether the federal government should invest nearly $1 billion in extending Metro to Tysons Corner. Bush transportation officials moved to undo funding for the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport but reversed course after fervent lobbying by the Washington area's congressional delegation and business leaders.

Federal officials said the line would be too costly and could siphon resources and strain the rest of the system.

Connolly and other officials said they interpreted that simply as an excuse offered by ideologues in the Bush administration who opposed transit projects and supported privatizing the transportation network.

In an interview, former transportation secretary Mary Peters said the focus on maintenance was not an excuse.

"As budgets began to get tighter, our concern was that enough money be kept in the kitty" for maintenance and repairs, she said. "It's a lot more fun to build new sections."

When putting an addition on a house, you also need enough money to repair the roof, Peters said.

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