Rebuilding the D.C. Metro transit system's Red Line

Rail installation over the winter and spring between Medical Center and Grosvenor.
Rail installation over the winter and spring between Medical Center and Grosvenor. (Courtesy of WMATA)
By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2010

Work on the $177 million Metrorail rehabilitation project has been largely invisible to riders since the Metro board approved it one year ago. All they know is that they endure off-peak travel delays. That part stays, unfortunately, but some of the results of the effort should become more obvious over the next year.

The program

The Red Line is the most heavily used of the five lines, and it includes the oldest stations. The section from Rhode Island Avenue to Farragut North inaugurated Washington's subway system in 1976.

The line's age is obvious to riders: Many elevators and escalators don't work; ceilings and platforms are deteriorating; the lighting is poor; and the announcements are unclear. Plus, it's really hot underground in the summer.

Metro planners have been working for several years on a rehabilitation program that eventually will reach all the lines, but the Red Line effort is the first. The formula, financed through Metro's capital budget and federal stimulus money, called for tackling maintenance and upgrades in sections. But the planners decided last year to add in some repairs that needed to go ahead more quickly.

So last fall, work began on the tracks between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor, a segment that was deteriorating at an abnormally fast rate, in part because of groundwater leaks in the tunnel.

Like the repairs now underway to preserve the 14th Street bridge, replacement of 12,000 feet of track, 290 crossties, 910 rail insulators and 9,800 track fasteners in that western section of the Red Line was necessary.

But only the disruption of single-tracking around work zones was evident to travelers. That phase of track work was completed in the spring. A new phase got underway this month.

The next year

One of the more visible elements will be the platform repair and tile replacement at the Rockville, Shady Grove, White Flint and Twinbrook stations, which are greatly deteriorated. Metro expects the platform work to be completed in early 2011.

Meanwhile, other work is scheduled to get underway this summer on a downtown portion of the line, basically from Judiciary Square to Rhode Island Avenue.

Through next summer, Metro plans to perform power upgrades; install new, bigger kiosks; improve the automatic train control and communications systems; change the style of station signs so they look more like the very clear ones at Gallery Place; improve public address systems; improve air-conditioning equipment; and rehabilitate escalators and elevators.

There are several other escalator projects outside that zone included in the program: at Dupont Circle's 19th Street entrance and at Foggy Bottom (even though the station is on the Blue and Orange lines). Foggy Bottom also will get an entrance canopy and a stairway.

Future phases

Metro's plan calls for tackling other segments of the Red Line for similar work in this order:

-- Dupont Circle to Gallery Place, from summer 2011 to late winter/spring 2012.

-- Brookland to Fort Totten, from late winter/spring 2012 to fall/winter 2012.

-- Fort Totten to Silver Spring, from fall 2012 to summer 2013.

The next contract, for the Blue and Orange lines, could be awarded this fall.

Impact on riders

This means continued single-tracking of trains around work zones late at night during the week and throughout the weekends. Limiting work to those off-peak hours disrupts fewer riders, but it stretches out the program's timetable.

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