Things looking up for Washington, D.C. Metro? New report says they are

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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Metro has released a report on progress it has made over the past three years, after it received a significant infusion of dedicated funding.

Metrorail provides substantially safer and more reliable service and dramatically fewer train delays three years after the National Capital Region provided dedicated capital funding to address a backlog of critically needed safety and reliability improvements, according to a new report released by Metro today. The report marks the halfway point of its six-year capital program, a coordinated effort to rehabilitate critical infrastructure and systems while establishing an annual program of preventive track maintenance. 

Metro’s preventive maintenance program has cut the number of emergency track repairs in half since FY2018. Once a leading cause of smoke and fire incidents, not a single traction power cable fire was recorded last fiscal year (FY2021), thanks to three years of cable meggering work. Incidents resulting from insulator fires also dropped nearly 80 percent during the same period, from 39 in FY2018 to just five in FY2021. Furthermore, increased water pumping capacity has helped dry up tunnels underground, further reducing train delays; in fact, the system now pumps 6.75 million gallons of water every four days – enough to fill the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

“In 2018, the Commonwealth led the way with bipartisan legislation to provide dedicated capital funding for WMATA, a vital economic driver for Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “Virginia is proud to continue to partner with Maryland and the District of Columbia to make this critical investment in infrastructure while ensuring safe, reliable, and equitable access to jobs, education, and healthcare across our region. The mobility of our workforce is critical to our economy, and is a key reason WMATA will continue to play an integral role in our region’s economic growth.”

“I am proud to have been an early champion of dedicated funding for Metro and applaud Metro for delivering safety and infrastructure improvements to benefit Marylanders and residents across the region,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “I continue to call on our federal government to become full partners in providing dedicated funding to WMATA.”

“A safe and reliable public transit system is of utmost importance not only to our residents and visitors but to our entire regional economy,” said District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser. “WMATA serves as a linchpin to federal government operations, the private sector, and beyond. As we look ahead into building back better and stronger than ever, it is vital that we continue to invest in transportation networks that lead the path forward for all.”

In addition to the many investments taking place behind the scenes, others are also visible to customers throughout their ride. For example: 

  • All 48 underground stations have received major lighting upgrades, making them up to ten times brighter while reducing energy consumption by about 60 percent. 
  • Escalators are now available 95% of the time, following completion of Metro’s previous escalator rehabilitation and replacement program in late 2019; work is now underway to replace another 130 escalators over the next seven years. 
  • Customers can now enjoy one of the most connected wireless experiences of any rail system in the U.S., with cellular coverage available in all tunnels and stations, as well as free Wi-Fi in all 91 stations. 
  • The Platform Improvement Project has rebuilt 17 of 20 outdoor station platforms scheduled for critical repairs, improving safety and accessibility while adding customer experience improvements like new Passenger Information Displays (PIDS). 

“Our customers can’t always see the investments being made in infrastructure and support systems, but they can notice a difference in the safety and reliability of Metrorail service” said Metro Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg. “While there is more work to be done, the customer experience has improved significantly since the days of SafeTrack.”

“We are only halfway through the six-year capital program, but the region’s investment is paying dividends to our customers who are getting better service,” said Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld. “Riders who are returning for the first time since the pandemic will see a more reliable train service than we’ve offered in years.”

Metro’s report notes that customers should expect more work ahead in parts of the system that still need attention, including: new fare gates in rail stations and new fare boxes on buses through the Fare System Modernization program; rehabilitation of the steel-lined tunnel and bridge on the Yellow Line between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations, starting in 2022; and implementation of projects where pilots are successful, including tunnel waterproofing and tunnel ventilation improvements

The U.S. Senate’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as the Invest Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, both contain provisions to reauthorize capital funding for Metro safety and reliability improvements. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008, expired after ten years, and funding has since been appropriated as part of the federal budget process. The new language would authorize Congress to continue funding the program at $150 million annually through federal fiscal year 2030.

Metro’s Board is also prioritizing major capital needs and potential future investments, including a commitment earlier this summer to convert to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2045, with a full transition to electric or other zero-emission bus purchases by 2030. Other major capital investments will be needed to maintain the system in a state of good repair, including a next generation signal system and new 8000-series rail cars, which will be built locally. Additional priorities currently in the planning phase include capacity enhancements for the Blue, Orange and Silver lines, as well as station access and passenger circulation improvements.

Progress Report to Stakeholders – Keep Metro Safe, Reliable, and Affordable – 2018-2021

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