According to Metro’s latest progress report on SafeTrack Surge #9, work is ahead of schedule: 10 days into the 42-day maintenance project, about a third of the planned work has already been completed and crews have replaced 4,000 rail ties.
Metro said workers have been helped by agreeable weather. This summer, crews were unable to complete all their prescribed tasks because of excessive heat, forcing them to adjust their timeline. Cooler temperatures during this surge have limited the need for breaks.
“By this point, 11 days into a 42‐day Surge, Metro had planned to complete about 28 percent of work,” Metro said in the progress report. “The weather has cooperated and Metro staff and contractors have managed to complete about 33 percent of all work planned for the entire Surge.”
In recent weeks, some Metro board members have expressed concern that the speed at which the repairs are being conducted — three years’ of work squeezed into 12 months — is impacting the quality of the work.
An examination of Federal Transit Administration inspections of work for the first three surges found a slew of problems, including tracks that were misaligned after being repaired by contractors, and fasteners and bolts that were improperly installed on rail ties.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld responded to those concerns at a news conference earlier this month.
“There are issues with any construction project,” Wiedefeld said. “I’ve been involved with numerous of them in my career. They’re never 100 percent. But literally, you’ve seen what’s been done out there, and the vast majority of that work is very good. There are some issues but that’s why we have two layers of, in effect, inspectors.”
The question of quality also came up at last week’s meeting of the board’s safety committee: Members were presented with a presentation from the American Public Transportation Association. The panel of experts was tasked with offering recommendations on how to improve the state of the system’s third rail power system and prevent track fires.
The APTA representatives outlined ways that Metro could improve its installation practices or use different materials to better protect the third rail.
The problem, board member Leif A. Dormsjo pointed out, is that a lot of these installations and replacements are already happening under SafeTrack.
“Were there any concerns on your part that the program of rehabilitation that’s underway may be inadequate, it may be misplaced, it may not be achieving the right results?” asked Dormsjo, who is also director of the District Department of Transportation. “I mean, we’re halfway through this maintenance program, and as I look at all of your recommendations … it begs the question, if we’re advancing all this work and accelerating it, that’s great if we’re accelerating the right solutions, the right outcomes.
“But you’ve raised a lot of questions about orange boot design, whether or not we’re using the right insulators, the issue of the coverboards,” Dormsjo added. “If were out here doing all this work, are we doing the right work?”
But Charles Joseph, director of rail programs at APTA, said that he did not think there was reason to believe that the fast-track nature of SafeTrack was jeopardizing quality.
“Nothing in our interviews or observations told us that [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] was doing anything that was not correct,” Joseph said.