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Beginning in June, Metrorail will implement continuous single tracking and even total shutdowns along segments systemwide, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced on Friday. Wiedefeld rolled out his plan, dubbed “SafeTrack,” to rehabilitate the troubled system.
The major overhaul calls for three years’ worth of work to be completed in one, including more maintenance on weeknights and weekends than could be accomplished by the 33 hours per week of maintenance work performed now. Repairs will start at 8 p.m. on weeknights, and at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, for the duration of the plan. This means Metrorail will stop service three hours early on weekends.
Metro will not reduce peak fares during implementation, Wiedefeld said, and bus fares will remain the same.
SafeTrack targets 15 rail segments, 10 of which will see single tracking at all hours, and five of which will be completely closed at different periods throughout the year. The work will be staggered to minimize service cuts, Wiedefeld explained; no shutdowns will endure for longer than a month, and contractors are helping perform repairs.
“We’re maximizing productivity,” the general manager said. “There are lots of other issues I have to deal with… but this is focused on safety and reliability.”
Wiedefeld said Metro will make public a final version of the plan by May 16, and the first effort—on the Blue and Yellow lines, between the Franconia-Springfield and Van Dorn Street stations—will start on June 4.
The repair plan will cause delays for tens of thousands of riders. For example, a segment shutdown on the Red Line between the NoMa and Fort Totten stations planned for Oct. 9 through Nov. 2 will affect 108,000 weekday trips, Metro says. Though the Green Line provides an alternative for riders traveling on the eastern half of the Red Line, the latter will experience less frequent service and crowding on platforms.
Metro says it will put 40 to 50 shuttle buses into service for each safety surge. Additionally, eight-car trains will run where possible, and extra trains will be “strategically positioned” to respond to disruptions. Wiedefeld said the transit agency will coordinate with regional jurisdictions as well as the federal government in the coming weeks to discuss congestion, parking, and other measures. He added that Metro and federal agencies will independently verify that maintenance is being done right.
“We cannot continue as we are,” Metro board chairman Jack Evans said, describing the plan as a “very aggressive” one. “We have tried to prepare the public over the several months. We are asking all of the stakeholders in Metro to bear with us. This is going to be inconvenient—more inconvenient than it is now.”
Asked about the cost of implementing the plan, Wiedefeld said he couldn’t project the ultimate figure but added he did not believe it would be in the billions of dollars. Reprogrammed funds, debt financing, and savings from increased productivity will help pay for it, he explained. Still, riders may adjust their ways of getting around or telecommute, so Metro could see a big loss of revenue over the next year.
The agency will evaluate whether to return extended hours “once [the] system is in state of good repair.”
The maintenance will include work on third-rail cables and connectors, tunnel lighting, debris, insulators, fasteners, ventilation fans, tunnel walls, and rails. Metro released a video showing the breadth of such work:
“This is not something we can keep kicking down the road,” Wiedefeld explained. “We have to do this.”
Metro’s new chief safety officer, Patrick Lavin, begins at the agency on Monday.
You can read the full plan and see if your travel will be affected here.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery