Washington's Metro does extensive refurbishing every 3 years
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Around the Metro system, crews are working behind the scenes to maintain the transit network's image as a spotless subway.
The workers wear masks, ear protectors and headgear as they mount heavy machines that pressure-wash more than three years of grime from ceilings, platforms and other surfaces inside and outside the stations. They're replacing thousands of signs, repairing and re-gluing tiles, re-bronzing railings, and painting kiosks and shelters. When the work is completed during the next 18 months, 42 stations will look pretty much like new, courtesy of the revolving station enhancement program.
"We get a lot of compliments on the difference in appearance," said Paul C. Gillum Jr., Metro's director of plant maintenance. "Riders will notice that their station is cleaner-looking and the surfaces are painted."
The $7.5 million annual program, which started in 1991, is paid for as part of Metro's capital budget, Gillum said.
Gillum compared the rehabs to daily maintenance of the transit system's buses and trains. If the station cleaning cycle was ever extended to every five or six years, the stations would look pretty awful, he said. And Metro has always taken pride in its appearance.
"You can always cut it out, but it will have an adverse effect," Gillum said.
But the transit agency faces a $40 million deficit in its current operating budget and a $175 million shortfall in the next budget. When the Metro board next considers cuts, "nothing is guaranteed," Gillum said.
Workers are close to finishing ceiling tile repairs in the passageway and replacing dozens of signs at Medical Center, one of several Red Line stations being rehabbed. New ceiling tiles are also going up at Bethesda, and Wheaton is getting painted and re-bronzed -- the process of restoring the brown pylons, escalator and elevator housings and handrails in every station to pristine condition. Hexagonal paver tiles are being laid at Foggy Bottom on the Orange and Blue lines. At Forest Glen (Red) and Potomac Avenue (Blue-Orange), crews will soon be power-washing with heavy equipment. Bus shelters and benches are being resurfaced at West Falls Church, and painting will start soon at East Falls Church, both on the Orange Line.
Enhancements at those and 13 other stations are scheduled to finish in June, when work will start on 21 more, including Pentagon, Union Station, Judiciary Square, Metro Center and Gallery Place, with a targeted completion date of June 2011. Then the cleaning cycle will start anew, so Metro stays on its station rehab schedule of performing major or slightly less intensive work every 3.75 years. Each job takes between nine and 12 weeks.
The work is done when ridership is low or after service shuts down, between 9:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays. Stores aboveground have long closed and restaurants have stopped serving, but in the Metro, workers are busy restoring, hosing, painting, cleaning, fixing and replacing, sometimes amid blasts of steam before they haul their equipment to the end of the platform in time for riders to arrive.
The Metro system has about 127,500 signs, which are replaced just as broken tiles are repaired. Wind wears down the signs at aboveground stations, and riders pick at them while they wait for trains, Gillum said.
"Most people don't realize there's that many signs in our system," he said. "We have a sign for everything."