“they might shut down entire rail lines for as long as six months for maintenance”

metro mess

UPDATE from WMATA:

“In response to questions I have seen from many of you, I want to let you know that I am working on a long-range maintenance plan for the rail system to ensure safe and reliable service. The plan is in development now, and I expect to have it ready in 4-6 weeks. I want to reassure you that, while I am keeping options open on how to proceed, no decisions have been made. Moreover, any service change in the plan that could affect your commute will receive ample notice to customers, businesses, stakeholders and the region as a whole.

You have my commitment that I will keep you informed once the plan is ready. In the meantime, I will advise you if there are any steps that must be taken on a priority basis to keep the rail system running safely and reliably.

Sincerely,

Paul J. Wiedefeld
Metro General Manager/CEO”

Thanks to all who sent links to this depressing story from the Post:

“Metro’s top officials warned Wednesday that the transit system is in such need of repair that they might shut down entire rail lines for as long as six months for maintenance, potentially snarling thousands of daily commutes and worsening congestion in the already traffic-clogged region.”

Jack Evans has been tweeting on the subject:

“If we don’t act now to fix #WMATA infrastructure & finances, we won’t have a system to fix in 10 yrs. #metrosummit”

“Where can u see orig. 40y.o. #WMATA car? Smithsonian? No need. We have 2 fix decades of mis-mgmt/under-investment.”

So about those bike lanes…

93 Comment

  • So they’ll be able to fix entire lines in 6 months but it takes a year for an escalator?

    • Well to be fair, no one at WMATA really comprehends how escalators work. It’s hard to repair and rebuild them quickly when you have only a dim understanding of their functioning.

    • 1 year would be great. Bethesda escalators were under construction when I moved here in 2010, they’re still under construction as of a month ago. Go figure.

  • Will watch these comments for guesses as to which line. If I were a red line commuter, I’d be nervous. The most correct guess might be “ALL lines need significant maintenance–gonna shut one down, make repairs, then shut the next one down, etc.

    Hoping for the best. Mind-blowing to imagine entire lines shut down.

    • The WaPo article said that a lot of repairs have already been made on the Red line, but Blue line’s diagnosis is critical.

      • If it’s just the blue only portions it won’t be that bad. However if its portions where the Orange/Silver overlap (e.g., all of downtown) then yea – apocalypse.

        • It’s gotta be overlap tracks, likely in the core. Closing down just Franconia-Springfield, Van Dorn St and/or Arlington Cem would suck for a lot of people, but not be catastrophic. Plus, the southern end beyond the Yellow overlap is relatively new.

          • If that’s the case but they can come back online with automatic train controlled (ATC) enabled it would be better in the long run. Metro hasn’t been able to reach the Rosslyn tunnel capacity due to train bunching and the difficultly of manually trying to schedule three lines.

        • Translation: It won’t be that bad *for you.* For those of us who have Blue Line commutes (and who have already been paying for the amped up Silver Line service with terrible rush hour wait times) it is insult being added to injury. Yes, I can take the Yellow line to my job, but having to backtrack from L’Enfant back to Farragut every day is extremely time consuming. Having to take a bus there wouldn’t be much better.

    • In the article they actually attribute Evans as saying the Red Line is the least likely to face the shut down. Guessing that all the work they did after the crash actually puts it a bit ahead.
      .
      Definitely sounds like this is the Blue Lines’ burden to bear, most likely.

    • NYC is closing the L train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan for multiple years to make the necessary repairs from Hurricane Sandy. At least in DC we have a strong culture of telecommuting; the work culture in NYC is still very much “face time” focused. The ramifications of closing the L Train will be similarly monumental to closing trains in DC.
      .
      I think we will see a lot more of this for U.S. infrastructure. Our trains, bridges, and tunnels are OLD. Especially compared to Europe where pretty much all the infrastructure was rebuilt after WW2 (with US dollars). Or Asia and other recently developed countries. We probably have the oldest, heavily used transportation infrastructure in the world.

      • Umm, except Metro is only 40 years old. And so is BART, which is also falling apart.

        • Yes, it’s only 40 years old but none of the components have been replaced in the scheduled manner. Structurally, our tunnels are fine. But the electrical and mechanical components are not designed to last 40 years. That stuff needs to be constantly monitored and replaced (as we are now seeing). It’s expensive and the jurisdictions have not kept up their funding commitments because its more politically palatable to cut taxes and kick the can down the road.

          • The funding thing is probably an issue, but the new GM has also stated that at this point he’s unsure whether large amounts of maintenance paid for and “performed” over the last few years has actually been done… this is also gross mismanagement.

          • “Structurally, our tunnels are fine” – tell that to the leaky tunnel between Friendship Heights and Medical Center.

      • Believe it or not, many D.C. residents or people living in the D.C. metro area cannot telecommute. What about all the low level government employees below GS 7. There are many people working in the private sector downtown and at the universities.? I am glad I’m retired. However, I do ride the redline to get to Kaiser on Capital Hill.

      • +1. Just a few weeks ago we were talking about the memorial bridge situation, which is similar (needs some serious work and money). I’m all for funding infrastructure at appropriate levels, and making do as we play catch-up and get these critical resources up to par in terms of safety, functionality, and reliability. Yes, it will be terrible for those impacted, but I’d rather have a temporary-albeit potentially major-inconvenience than a crash or other disaster.

    • There’s a complete lack of redundancy of bus service with the Red Line. The L-lines within DC have been cut way back in the past 5 years or so. The East side of the Red Line doesn’t have anything like this unless you count Georgia Avenue service. There aren’t even lines to expand in MoCo—Rt 355 lacks through bus routes.

      Chicago did something like this about 10-15 years ago, but there’s lots of redundancy especially on the North/South subway lines and they haven’t dismantled parallel bus services to the extent that Metro has.

      • I can’t imagine they’ll do this without some serious compensation with the bus routes–more buses, probably even more routes. This is totally shocking, but honestly, props to Wiedefeld. This guy is not messing around.

      • I think you are not very familiar with the bus system. The “east side of the red line” (i.e. east of the park), has buses that run up Georgia Ave (as you noted, 70&79 lines), 14th St (52,53,54) and 16th St (S2,S4,S9). I’m pretty confident there are also buses that run N/S along N. capitol street. I can’t really imagine where you’d need to go east of the park that wouldn’t have a N/S bus line within 4 blocks of it.

        • I think you’re not very familiar with where the east end of the red line is. A hint – it ain’t just east of the park, it’s in NE. From Ft. Totten/Brookland to 14th, 16th or Georgia – that’s just silly season for a walker or a biker to even attempt. They aren’t even in the same quadrant and the crosstown roads are not designed for an easy commute. And the 80 is the SOLE bus that runs the length of North Capitol – it’s not a major bus thoroughfare. I can’t imagine you ever go east of North Cap!

          • I think I’m very familiar with where the east end of the red line is. Ft Totten is serviced by 3 lines, so if the red line goes down, no worries, you still have metro access. It is one mile from both Brookland and Rhode Island metro stations to North Capitol St. That’s very walkable/bike-able. Furthermore, the 80 bus you refer to is most certainly a “major bus” route (it runs every 7-10 minutes during rush hour). Finally, if you are at Rhode Island Ave you also have the G8 bus which will take you to Farragut (i.e. if you are used to taking the red line to Farragut or Dupont).

            Listen, I live on the “east end” of the red line and certainly hope they don’t shut it down, but to pretend like there isn’t bus service in NE is ignorant.

  • I just can’t even wrap my head around how it will work. Road congestion will be unbearable.

    • This is JACK EVANS talking. He’s been on the board for how long? Way to be pro-active Jack!
      .
      This whole board should be fired, including Jack.

      • I believe he was appointed by Mayor Bowser to the Metro Board in January 2015.

        • Yes, and was on the board for several years in the 90s as well. I think statements like this should be coming from only one person – the GM. Look how much attention it got.

  • Is there any way to retroactively punish past management for negligence?

    • WMATA has never had guaranteed funding to do all the preemptive maintenance that’s been deferred over the last 2.5 decades. If you’re going after WMATA, you’ll also need to punish legislators in Richmond and Annapolis that refused to spend money and instead foolishly cut taxes.

      • In fact when the line was first constructed it was under the assumption funds would be added later to pay for things like maintenance and more train stock. That funding never came (surprise, surprise).

        Metro is one of the only systems that doesn’t really have a budget funded through a dedicated revenue stream (e.g., taxes).

      • As noted above… this is not just a funding issue. It’s starting to come out that maintenance that has supposedly been performed over the last few years of rebuilding (this is why we’re 5 years into single-tracking on weekends, after all) has likely not actually been completed.

    • PS – Weidefeld forced the top officials in charge of Operations and Repairs to resign in the last few months. The Operations guy resigned after the train ran the red light a few months ago and the Repairs chief resigned a week after the one-day shutdown. So there has been some accountability and Weidefeld appears to be clearing house and changing the culture of Metro.

      • Wow. It makes me like him even more that he not only forced the resignations, but also that I never heard about it–he’s not trumpeting his moves, just getting [stuff] done.

      • This may just be hyperbole (shutting down for 6 months) but it shows that at least the management is thinking differently than they ever have before. Weidefeld is a welcome change to WMATA.
        Hopefully he doesn’t get tired and quit too soon.

    • Jack Evans, who’s the one stirring the pot with this news, has been on the board with the bad management.

  • So here’s my question, they keep mentioning the blue line, but the Silver line runs along the same route at least from Largo to Rosslyn, so will the silver line be shut down for that route and just do a Reston to Rosslyn route? Same w/the orange line, where they share the Stadium Armory – Rosslyn. How can they shut down the blue line and still say the other two lines are OK if they share some of the same tracks?

  • If there was ever an argument for urban living and walking/biking to work, this is it. I worry most about the low wage earners who keep our city running…this will make their lives even more difficult.

  • These sorts of things aren’t unprecedented. London’s Central Line (literally their Red Line) was shut down entirely for 3 months following a derailment. And that was immediately, without any sort of advance planning for alternate transportation, rerouting bus lines, etc.. Granted, the Tube does have much more redundancy (lines overlapping), but when you are facing such serious infrastructure deficiencies sometimes you just have to rip the band aid off.

  • Let’s hope they’re smart about this and run a LOT more buses to help balance it out.

  • It sounds like he was just using blue as an example. My bet would be the orange/blue/silver tracks shared downtown as a first contender. They have had the bulk of the problems over the past year. The Post article specifically says that it likely would not be red line first.

    I live in Adams Morgan and currently S-bus to Farragut West to take the orange/silver to my office in Ballston. I don’t own a car and moved to DC in large part because it was a place where I could easily get by without one. If they closed down the stops I commute through for an extended period, it would be the final straw for me buying a car. My 45-minute-on-a-good-day commute already borders on unbearable, especially knowing the drive for me would be much faster. I couldn’t take the added time of a bus bridge or of taking the 38B to Ballston. Parking is free at my office and nearly everyone drives already. Once I started driving I wouldn’t go back to commuting via Metro when the line opened back up.

    • Totally agree with your guess of the downtown blue/orange/silver tracks being first up.
      .
      Sounds like it’s time for you to get a car! Free parking is awesome.

    • You’re an example of one of the big issues that will come along with closing a line for 6 months — riders are going to leave and not come back. Even WMATA introduces parallel bus service, it’s likely going to be a lot slower than the train would have been over the same route. Some chunk of people are going to start carpooling or buy a car to avoid doubling their commute every day.

      • Perhaps, but I also think that if metro were to do this shutdown, and then return with a functioning and reliable system, ridership would pick up again, eventually. They are already bleeding riders as it is.

      • WMATA has already lost riders (like myself). Ridership is at the lowest levels in 10 years. Although this will be a painful process, shuttering portions of the system for extended periods of time to do the much needed maintenance, is the right decision to make. If and when the system reopens and proves to once again be a reliable means of transit, people will return.

  • This means one of two things: 1) the train lines are in such astonishing disrepair that this is actually necessary and we’d all better get ready for it, or 2) this guy is well aware that historically the WMATA is underfunded and has loads of deferred maintenance built up and sees now as his best chance to scare some money into the system by putting all the blame on previous leadership so that everyone currently at the table can feel like the hero (they’re not).
    .
    I’m fine with either option, honestly.

    • It’s 2, but probably with some legit caution towards 1 being a possibility if 2 doesn’t pay off. I’m not sure that shutting down entire lines makes much sense given their size. Shutting down 4-5 stations at a time and replacing service with bus lines is probably a more realistic way to execute long-term maintenance without totally debilitating travel throughout the region.

      • Part of 2 is that if we really don’t need to shut it down, he’s overselling it to get more money and also look like a hero himself when it turns out it can be fixed in 3 months or 6 weeks. It’s expectation management, I suspect.

  • Very bold of metro considering once passengers find other means to get to work for those 6 months the likelihood of them going back to Metro once it reopens is low.

  • accendo

    Good. I’m glad they’re putting things like this on the table. The status quo of the “rebuilding effort” isn’t working.

  • janie4

    I’m green line/yellow up at Petworth. I think the green line is the newest line, so maybe it won’t be my line. If I needed to, I could handle it. I have straight bus service down to archives/L’Enfant. Hopefully if this happens, they’ll create express bus service that just stops wherever the train station is.

    Heavy rail/metro tends to have a life cycle of about 40 years, even without deferred maintenance. NYC’s subway has had two major overhauls, and the underground portion is about 110 years old. They’re gearing up for the next major cycle. So we’re really on track for the refresh. The problem is that DC, unlike other cities, doesn’t have major workarounds and redundancy.

    • (What bus runs Petworth-L’Enfant? I’m in CH and already assessing options.)

      • (I know it’s early and possibly not even an issue. I’m just musing about the impact on my life before I start complaining. 🙂 )

      • They probably take the 70/79 to Archives and walk across the Mall.

        • 70 bus used to run all the way to Buzzard’s Point. Now it stops at Archives.

          • I need to get to Waterfront, so I’ll have to transfer regardless, but I wasn’t sure what the best first leg would be. It’s all conjecture right now anywayy, but I’m also kind of a public transportation nerd who likes finding new ways to get around the city, above ground, so I can look out the windows.

          • You could try running it through Metro’s Trip Planner and selecting the “Bus Only” option.

        • janie4

          Yes, that’s what I do. Bad in rainy weather, but not a bad walk.

      • The 50s bus on 14th St. runs all the way to L’Enfant.

  • To be honest, I’ve always wondered why they haven’t done this. How much can they actually accomplish working for 1-2 hours in the middle of the night? Metro is only closed for about 5 hours, less than that by the time trains clear the tracks, and they’ve got to haul equipment and people to the work site and out. Instead of years and years of weekend work, maybe 2-3 weeks and they can get a big stretch rehabbed. It would be a major problem for the people who use that line for those weeks, but I think better than feeling the same amount of pain stretched out of a decade of commuting hassles.

    • and by 2-3 weeks, of course I mean 2-3 months. :/

    • But what about all of the weekends where stations are closed over and over and over? I’m honestly pretty angry that they’re even having to consider this option based on all of the “track maintenance” we’ve endured over the last ~7 years. What was all of that FOR? (sorry not angry at you haha!)

      • I hear ya. Sometimes stations are closed (but usually in the hinterlands, it seems – rarely in the downtown core), but usually it’s just really long headways between trains. So I can’t figure out how they were getting ANY work done during these years of weekend track work. Frankly, they probably should have just closed the system on weekends, I no longer even consider it an option and just head straight for a bus.

        • Wait, have you never heard the phrase “single-tracking” over the past 5-6 years? That’s where the twenty-minute (sometimes plus) headways come from… no trains will run on one track, usually for a whole weekend, giving workers more than 48 hours to make repairs. Trains share the other track, in one direction, then the other — hence the massive delays.

      • Yeah, it really sucks. We bought in to the weekend track work scenario, but now when it comes down to it, it has not been successful. I don’t know why, whether it was incompetence (likely) or just a bad idea from the get-go, but the current situation is that something has got to give to get metro right. I’d much rather suffer through this inconvenience and get it done, and get it done right, then suffer through several more years of weekend track work that isn’t accomplishing anything.

  • I am all for shutting down a line for six months if that’s what it takes. Hopefully (but not likely in reality), this will lead to less weekend work and overall more reliable service. If they have done it in other (much larger) cities, we can handle it here. Unfortunately, those who need the metro the most (low income workers) will be the hardest hit, but it is clear something drastic needs to be done.

  • If anyone wants a really great book that explains in detail the root cause of a lot of these Metro frustrations I highly recommend The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro by Zachary M. Schrag. It explains why the guaranteed funding source has always been a problem. The cost overruns as a result from Congress withholding funds. Why there isn’t an Adams Morgan station. Even smaller things like the design of stations, lighting, why there is no retail. But the crux of a lot of the current issues is the multi-state system that BART, MTA, Chicago don’t have to deal with. While those cities and states can budget for funding and levy taxes for infrastracture Metro often needs VA, DC, MD and potentially the Federal government to agree on financial support and priorities within the system. Anyway it is a great book to read while you commute on Metro.

  • Perhaps this is an opportunity to give serious thought, not just to improving the rail system, but taking a holistic view of the entire public transit system. Since we lack redundancy on the rails, maybe we should seriously consider alternatives such as dedicated bus lines down the major thoroughfares, such as 16th St., at least while the work is going on. We could see how we like it and perhaps modify it when the closed rails come back on line. I think Weidefeld’s plan should be viewed as an opportunity for radical innovation that incorporates all modes of transportation —car, bike, pedestrian, hoverboard—in a way that we’re not running over each other and allows the system to meet 21st century challenges. It could be exciting although painful in the interim.

    • I know it’s not going to happen, but this could be a great opportunity to ADD redundancy to the rails. I will never understand why the system was built as a 2 track system. Adding express rails would be FAR more useful than extending the silver line.

      • This seems like a good answer about why there are not redundant parallel tracks or express tracks built it: “Think about the position in which these planners found themselves. Considering the three-state makeup of the region, it is amazing we even have Metro. The funding problem is perhaps one of the most complex in the nation and a four-track subway would have roughly doubled the cost of the system. Given that, had planners pressed for a four-track system, Metro would either be half the size it is today, would have taken twice as long to build, or would have been killed outright.”
        http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/3760/was-the-lack-of-express-tracks-a-lack-of-foresight/

        The book I recommended a couple of comments up also talks about this a bit. Great read.

        • Right. That is in no small part why MTA doesn’t extend over to New Jersey. But as the DC region continues to grow up (not up) and travel distances for metro riders also expands as people move further out (for a myriad of reasons), lacking the ability to expedite travel through and across the system is only going to continue to be a huge problem.

        • I just picked this up from the linked article “Tysons could easily grow into a vibrant, walkable edge city” which is hilarious if you have ever attempted to walk in Tysons like I did one day when I parked at the wrong mall and figured it would be easier to walk across the street than move my car, only to find out – there are no sidewalks in Tysons. None. I traversed through shrubbery and grass and got the stink eye from every passing motorist.

      • Blithe

        If you “will never understand why the system was built as a 2 track system”, I’m guessing that you weren’t living in DC when the underground portions of the system were being built. I think that one concern — which several people have described, was the issue of guaranteed long-term funding for Metro — something that is likely far easier to negotiate when the the system is located in one city, and or, at least in one state to advocate for the essential importance of the transit system. Another issue was the considerable long term disruption that people who lived and worked here had to deal with during construction. Many businesses closed, and many people’s lives were irreparably disrupted as streets and sidewalks became inaccessible due to the underground construction. for months, if not years. At the same time, it wasn’t entirely clear how the system would be used on a regular basis. Getting even MORE money and asking people to tolerate even more severe inconvenience in anticipation of multiple community changes that were in part a function of Metro’s existence would have been asking a lot, particularly in a city that had only recently had elected officials, with no representation in Congress. I agree that redundancy would be a good thing — but I think that many pragmatic decisions and sacrifices were made just to get it done.

      • I’m not sure how effective an express line would be in DC. The DC Metro is nowhere near the size of the NYC subway. It makes sense to have express trains when it takes 1+ hours to get to the heart of downtown from places going through all stops. It takes 25 minutes to get to the heart of downtown from clear out at the end of the Red line, etc.
        .
        Obviously the silver line will be extending out the furthest from DC – but again, it’s not like it’s the quantity of stops that takes so long, it’s simply that Dulles is just not close, period. Dulles is 27 miles from downtown DC. That’s like taking a subway from Grand Central to Greenwich. That express train takes 45 minutes. The DC Metro from downtown to Dulles will take about that same time.
        .
        There just isn’t the quantity of stops to really justify a 3rd track for express train service. It wouldn’t speed things up that much because there aren’t 30 stops between the end of a line and downtown.

  • justinbc

    You say depressing, I say refreshing. Someone at WMATA finally seems to give a shit.

  • Really a sad commentary that the most creative thing our new Metro manager can come up with is to shut it down. How about shutting down between say two or three stations at a time and using bus-bridges? How about single tracking more frequently for longer periods? How about bringing in some experts from others systems where it’s unthinkable to suggest that shutdown is the answer?

    And, how about some follow-up investigation to determine whether the years of neglect were criminal and prosecutable. Are any of the people who let the system get as bad as it is still employed by Metro? That would be hard to explain and justify.

    • I’m going to guess that once they start planning out where the work needs to happen, it won’t necessarily result in shutting down the entire line, but larger sections – likely dictated wherever the turn-around and bypass areas are.

    • west_egg

      “others systems where it’s unthinkable to suggest that shutdown is the answer”
      .
      Such as?

      • The Japanese Shinkansen high speed rail system has operated without an accident or service disruption for sixty years. We could start there.

        • Have you ridden that train, if you have then you would know that that rail system has never wanted for money. If we spent on infrastructure like the Japanese did, we could have a shiny system too.
          But it’s almost insane to expect anything near that level of service without dedicated funding and constant budget shortfalls.

          I mean look at the response of the MD and VA politicians to this from yesterday. They basically are saying “we are reluctant to give more money until service improves.” Which is absurd, because most of the service problems are due to a negligent lack of funds.

          Running a world class subway system costs money. I am not sure why people are expecting anything like Japan when we have repeatedly refused to pay what something like that would cost.

        • yes of course I’ve ridden it. not sure about funding (since it’s privately operated) but it is quite expensive.
          .
          however the problems with metro are more related to patronage, racism, and corrupt unions than lack of money.

          • It’s definitely lack of money. Politicians make us think the other thing to deny funding. But it’s money.

            Not saying the other things aren’t problems, but Metro is woefully underfunded comapared to other systems.

    • If they could do it in NYC I am not sure why it would be unthinkable to do it here.

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