A year after two back-to-back snowstorms froze Metro in its tracks, the transit agency has not received and installed all the new snow removal equipment ordered but believes it is well prepared for whatever the rest of this winter may bring.
In January 1987, Metro was forced to shut down service to its 26 outdoor stations after two heavy snowstorms caused massive equipment failures. Service was disrupted for days as ice coated the 75-volt third rail that supplies electricity to power the trains. Snow froze track switches, blew fuses in rail car motors, trapped many cars in maintenance yards and jammed countless car doors.
That prompted Metro's board of directors to adopt a $28.3 million, three-year program to better equip the system and to vote to spend $13 million this year.
The centerpiece is to be $7 million worth of electric heating tape to warm the third rail to 35 degrees, which should melt the ice before it cuts power. The tape is to be installed along sections of track that have experienced trouble in snow before, particularly on inclines near the ends of the lines.
By Friday, the heating tape was ready to operate in Metro's five yards, but not all of the heaters were installed and ready to operate on the passenger lines, said George Earnhart, program manager for the winterization effort.
All of the 10,000 feet of heating tape for the line near the Silver Spring station was operational, he said. Near Shady Grove, about 2,700 feet of tape, or more than half the amount planned, was installed but not operational; near New Carrollton, about 12,000 feet of tape, or about 75 percent, was installed but not operational, he said.
None of the heaters has been installed as planned near the Huntington, Addison Road, National Airport and Vienna stations, on the spur to the Alexandria yard, or on the junction of the Orange and Blue lines, he said.
All of the tape is expected to be in place by the end of February, except at National Airport and the Orange-Blue junction, which will be completed in the spring, Earnhart said.
The tape contract will exceed the budget by more than $30,000, but that will be more than compensated by savings from other parts of the winterization program, which are largely completed, Metro reports.
Metro has installed all the switch heaters and received all the 14 tractors with snow blades, the 16 snow spreaders, 15 snow plow blades and six diesel locomotives ordered. Metro expects to receive 10 one-ton four-wheel drive vehicles by Feb. 8, and it is connecting the locomotives to flatcars with ice scrapers and equipment to spray antifreeze liquid on the rails.
"As big as this program was and as quickly as it was put together, we're in pretty good shape," Earnhart said.