Metro steps up preparations for winter snowstorms

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 10:38 PM

Metro has stepped up preparations for winter storms to try to keep more portions of the system running despite heavy snow, Metro officials said Thursday.

"We've moved up our time frame," Jim Hughes said. "It's early October and we're ready." He added that contracts have also been put in place for workers to help clear snow from Metro parking lots.

Metro and other transportation agencies suspended service for several days last winter in the face of record snowfall. Metrorail was forced to retreat to servicing underground stations only, and piles of snow and icy roads made bus operations perilous.

One major goal is to keep the Yellow Line bridge across the Potomac River open even if a snowfall of more than eight inches forces a shutdown of aboveground rail operations, said Hughes, who is in charge of Metro's snowstorm strategy.

"We want to keep that open longer" to allow for a connection between downtown and the segment of the rail system running between Pentagon and Crystal City stations, said Hughes, Metro's director of intermodal planning.

Metro plans to continue with a strategy first implemented during the snowstorms last winter that called for restricting service after snow levels surpassed eight inches. After the snow depth exceeds eight inches, it begins to cover the third rail and makes train service unreliable.

That approach grew out of problems encountered after the Presidents' Day weekend snowstorm in 2003, when Metro kept equipment operating longer but had greater damage and difficulty restoring service after the storm ended, Hughes said.

In preparation for this winter, Metro has repaired and bought new snow and ice removal gear - readying about 560 pieces of equipment to tackle the storms more aggressively. For example, it plans to add a de-icer and scraper to the Yellow Line bridge to treat accumulation there, officials said.

Metro is also upgrading its fleet of prime mover vehicles, which pull the scrapers that help keep snow and ice off the electrified third rail. It is purchasing as many as 70 new snowblowers to remove snow from station platforms and walkways and will operate 20 de-icer cars on the rails and in rail yards.

To improve bus performance during and after storms, Metro is working more closely with local jurisdictions on plans to remove snow from emergency bus routes and bus stops, Hughes said.

Among the concerns last winter were that bus passengers had to walk in the streets to board buses and that stops were blocked by accumulations of snow and ice.

The transit agency also faced the daunting task of digging out trains from rail yards during snowstorms in December and February. Metro had stored as many trains as officials said were practical in tunnels, but hundreds of trains were in rail yards, where the fleet had to be dug out by employees and contractors.

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