Metro interim general manager plans work on Red Line congestion, escalators

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Metro's interim general manager, Richard Sarles, outlined steps Tuesday to ease rush-hour congestion on the Red Line and tackle chronic escalator and elevator problems as part of his six-month action plan to improve customer service and safety.

Meanwhile, the organization responsible for overseeing safety at Metro, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, said Tuesday that it is undergoing a major overhaul in response to a Federal Transit Administration audit that found that it lacked sufficient authority and independence to be effective.

During a roundtable with reporters at Metro headquarters, Sarles offered new details of his plan to improve Metro's service reliability and prevent accidents.

To ease traffic jams on the Red Line during peak travel periods, Sarles said that starting in June or July, he would adjust Red Line schedules for the first time since 2004, slightly lengthening the time between trains but adding more eight-car trains. The goal is to reduce congestion without sacrificing capacity.

Several factors have combined to clog Red Line trains during rush hour, including crowded platforms, which slow boarding; manual train operations, required since June's fatal Red Line crash; and the opening of the New York Avenue Station, Sarles said. "Because of the congestion, we can't stick to the schedule," he said, and so it must be adjusted.

The change would increase the time between trains from 2 1/2 to three minutes between Grosvenor and Silver Spring and from five to six minutes between Shady Grove and White Flint and between Glenmont and Forest Glen.

"What riders should feel is that the on-time performance for the Red Line should go up," said Sarles, who added that he scrutinizes reliability data for Metro every day.

The pilot Red Line schedule adjustment, if successful, could be extended to other lines.

Escalator and elevator troubles are another target, and Sarles said that within the month, he would bring in outside consultants for a fresh look at the operations and accountability of the Metro department responsible for keeping the conveyances in good repair. Sarles said the move is a response to rider complaints. "It's been a continuing issue with customers," he said.

On any given day, dozens of Metro escalators are out of service. It has been a constant source of frustration for passengers. Tuesday afternoon, about 68 of the system's 588 escalators were listed on Metro's Web site as being out of service.

In another effort to improve service and transparency, Sarles said that next month, Metro will start releasing a monthly "score card" to publicize performance measures.

He said he also seeks to fill in voids in the staff and stabilize Metro's leadership after years of frequent reorganizations. "People have to know who is their boss," he said.

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