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Safety, budget woes threaten to consume Metro

An examination of the nation's second largest rail transit system comes at a time when Metro tries to weather an unprecedented season of danger and dismay.

"The exact amounts of all those things are uncertain," said Sarah A. Kline, director of Metro's Office of Policy and Government Relations and a former counsel to the Senate Banking Committee who has expertise in the transit industry.

"How much you will get from federal transit formulas is not certain, and it's not certain we will get $150 million a year in federal dedicated funding, and we are in discussions with [local] jurisdictions for the next six-year program" to fund capital needs, she said.

The six-year Metro Matters program through which local jurisdictions in Virginia, Maryland and the District invest in Metro's renewal ends in June, and the federal legislation that provides 80 percent of Metro's capital funding, the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act, expired in September. Both must be renegotiated.

Although Congress last year authorized $1.5 billion over the next 10 years for Metro -- funds that are to be matched by the local jurisdictions -- Kline points out that there is no guarantee lawmakers will appropriate the funds annually.

"It's called dedicated funding, but it's not guaranteed to arrive every year," Kline said.

Metro's leadership is also in disarray. Catoe announced his retirement last month, Benjamin only recently became chairman and the board expanded to accommodate the first two of four new federal members whose roles are not clearly defined.

The leadership vacuum extends from the executive level into the ranks of middle managers and technical experts, said David Gunn, general manager of Metro from March 1991 to March 1994 who was recently asked to provide a sweeping assessment of Metro's problems. In December, Metro announced that four top managers would be leaving or be reassigned, including Catoe's top deputy and safety officer.

Officials say the fundamental message for customers is: Get used to fare increases, service cuts and perpetual repairs -- and the inevitable delays and inconveniences they will cause.

"We need to ask customers to understand we are not that new system anymore," Benjamin said.


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