What do the late Gen. William C. Westmoreland and Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld have in common?
Besides their rank, both men promised the American public some light at the end of the tunnel.
Unfortunately for Wiedefeld, however, the tunnel is still obscured by smoke.
Again, a part of Metro’s subway melted down Thursday, forcing riders to evacuate Metro Center and fend for themselves during the morning rush. Again, the region had to wonder whether its mass transit system has become a quagmire, another memorial to a lost cause buried halfway underground.
The parallels — if far less profound — are unsettling.
For one thing, Thursday’s meltdown comes near the end of the massive year-long SafeTrack rebuilding program that was supposed to minimize such disruptions and ensure riders’ safety. The latest breakdown also comes as Wiedefeld makes the rounds lobbying regional and federal governments to commit more resources to an already heavily subsidized system. And it comes as its labor union stages a mutiny at a Metro board meeting, apparently clueless that its chant of protest — “Who moves this city?” — was not a rhetorical question on Thursday.
As SafeTrack drags on and fares rise and service declines, more people wonder whether the failures of Metro are a metaphor for the decline of the nation’s infrastructure and maybe more.
Amid the turmoil and frustration, divisions are growing sharper, too. In the past year or so, management has blamed its workers for incompetence or worse, such as falsified inspection reports. The workers’ biggest union — not without good cause — turns around and blames management.
Others blame Metro’s former general manager or the former board. Congress gets kicked around because Congress usually deserves to get kicked around. Some trace it back to the compromises that attended Metro’s founding or the very nature of its governing compact.
“There are always delays on the Red Line,” Philip Taylor, 58, told a colleague. “But I would’ve thought with all the SafeTrack work that’s been done for months and months, problems like this would have been alleviated by now.”
Instead, Metro gives us the equivalent of body counts: 3,572 cross-ties and 1,120 insulators replaced on the Red Line, plus six joints welded, during the battle of Surge No. 7; 7,102 cross-ties and 353 insulators replaced on the Yellow and Blue lines, plus 27 joints welded, in the battle of Surge No. 8; 7,159 cross-ties and 402 insulators replaced on the Orange Line, plus 97 joints welded, in the battle of Surge No. 9.
Metro riders just want to know that we’re winning.
In the meantime, they endure because they have to. And they shell out $13 a day, more or less, knowing that their fares are likely to keep going up as service goes down and wondering when the light at the end of the tunnel is just going to be the next train.
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