Metro officials, asserting that they will be ready for this winter's first snowfall, conceded yesterday that they are about 30 days behind schedule in installing new equipment to prevent ice buildups on the rails.
"We'll be in good shape," said George Earnhart, project manager for Metro's winterization program, noting that by mid-December the transit agency expects to have most of the $10.3 million in new equipment installed.
However, equipment to heat the 750-volt third rail, which powers Metro trains, will not be completely installed until a month after the Jan. 1 target date. The original schedule was "a little ambitious," Earnhart said.
Metro now hopes to complete installation of 112,000 feet of the rail heaters -- which resemble tape running along the outside of the third rail -- by Feb. 1, he said. Metro decided to spend $7 million on the rail heaters after two heavy snowstorms last January shut down outdoor parts of the 69.6-mile rail system.
Metro has installed about 20 percent of the heating tape -- which should warm the rail to 35 degrees, melting any snow before it ices over. The heaters will not be installed throughout the system, but only in the yards and along parts of the line that go uphill or have experienced snow problems.
Metro should have about half the rail heaters installed by mid-November, officials said yesterday.
"We're better off today . . . than we were" last year, General Manager Carmen E. Turner said.
Metro has purchased an additional $3.3 million in snow-fighting equipment, including six diesel engines with plows to pull six flatcars with ice scrapers over the rails, switch heaters to prevent the track switches from freezing, and 39 plows and trucks to clear snow from Metro parking lots.
Design, management and labor costs added $2.7 million to winterization costs, pushing the total for the first stage of the three-year, $28 million program to $13 million.
In another development, members of the Metro board met yesterday with Mitch Snyder, an advocate for the homeless, and other members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence to discuss the group's objections to the fence installed at the Farragut West station to keep out vagrants.
During the meeting, about two dozen protesters gathered outside Metro headquarters carrying signs and banners calling on the agency to "bring down the gate of shame." Metro officials said they installed the fence after patrons and employes complained about people using the station as a toilet overnight.
The meeting did not yield any changes -- the fence stays up and Snyder plans to continue protesting -- but both groups said the discussions were useful.
"As long as people are talking, there is hope and possibility," Snyder said.
"We are very, very concerned about homeless people," said Metro board and D.C. Council member Hilda H.M. Mason, (Statehood-At Large). "All of us have to participate in solving the problem."