Depths of Incompetence?

by Prince Of Petworth August 13, 2015 at 9:45 am 20 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Beau Finley

From Fox 5:

“The derailment of a non-passenger train outside the Smithsonian Metro station last Thursday was caused by a track defect that was discovered on July 9 but not fixed, Metro said.

Following the derailment, Requa ordered a system-wide inspection of every mile of track, which could take up to a month to complete. He said customers can expect delays in the coming days as possible additional track repairs are made.”

  • sigh

    That’s a truly stunning level of incompetence.

    Hopefully this is the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back and drives some appetite to finally change WMATA leadership from a jobs and patronage program into a competent, modern transit operator. Outsourcing management to a third party from a country that knows how a modern transit system should work seems like it would be a good next step, if at least temporarily.

    For those who aren’t aware of just how dysfunctional WMATA leadership really is, I advise you to read the following article (yes, I know it’s from the Times – it really is worth reading, and the facts are well-documented and sourced):


    • rsn

      I agree with you on the management issues, but I’m not sure why I’m not sure why any private operator would want to take on this project. Metro has been consistently underfunded for quite some time and has a gigantic backlog of maintenance issues. Even after slimming down payroll (which in and of itself would cost a huge sum as you would need to break union contracts), they would either have to cut service drastically or continue attempting to run the barely functioning rail infrastructure.

      • anonymous

        Consistently underfunded? And yet, they manage to leave $100-200 million on the table each year because they’re too incompetent to even arrange the maintenance the surrounding regions have already paid for! This isn’t a money problem (the WMATA workers are very well-compensated)- this is a management/union/bad employee/bad planning/apathy/sheer and utter incompetence problem.

      • mail

        i beseech you to read the series of articles linked above. the situation is not at all what you might think especially if you have previously believed a word ever uttered by anyone employed by WMATA.

        • rsn

          I’m not debating the management issues – I agree that there are some long standing structural issues that need to be addressed (the least of which is evidenced by Metro’s inability to spend $200 in federal funding that they so desperately need). I’m just saying that the Veolias of the world wouldn’t touch Metro with a 10-foot pole.

          Look at the financial statements – every year funding stays at roughly the same level, meaning that metro has to do more with less (salaries increase at 3% a year due to union contracts, cost of raw materials generally increase). Every year, day-to-day operations takes up a larger percentage of the budget, meaning that Metro has less money to use on capital costs and long term maintenance. Hell, jurisdictions didn’t even fund a capital cost pot until 7-8 years ago. This is PART of the reason we are where we are now – systems are failing because a)management has been poor over the life of the system and b)we haven’t really fully funded the system in decades.

          If I’m Veolia, why would I want to take over management of a system with failing infrastructure that is only funded to the level of maintaining current operations (with limited room for infrastructure maintenance)? The only reason I would even consider this is if I could lower salaries considerably, but given the current union contracts, that would be very expensive if it was possible at all.

  • I Dont Get It

    Who is the current DC rep on the Metro board? We need to contact him/her and demand that heads role. This is crazy–someone could get killed (again)!.
    “Following the derailment, Requa ordered a system-wide inspection of every mile of track, which could take up to a month to complete.”

    Uhm…shouldn’t they be doing this anyway?

    • rsn

      They DO already do this. Inspectors walk track on a consistent basis, but it takes awhile to do thorough inspections so you can only do so much at once (also they can only do this during hours when the system is closed). I’m assuming this means they’ll be either paying for overtime or bringing in extra contractors to get this done faster than usual.

      Basically they’ll be paying extra money to do something that they normally do on an expedited time schedule. Also, this doesn’t really address the issue at hand since Metro KNEW about the track issue (so the current inspection process is actually working…), just didn’t do anything to fix the problem.

      • textdoc

        I thought there was a history of Metro employees who were supposed to be doing the safety inspections at night when Metro doesn’t run who turned out to be using the time to sleep instead.

    • U-Bahn

      Metro has track geometry cars (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Track_geometry_car). They are bright green metro cars that have lasers and other sensors for checking track spread and wear. They should be using them regularly on all lines, but who knows.

    • mail

      i think the point is they DID inspect it but they forgot to actually remedy the serious maintenance gap they found!!

  • Thomas

    It’s like the worlds least funny and longest running joke at this point.

  • Hungry

    I wonder if this is related to the jolting bump I always feel going between Federal Triangle and Smithsonian. It’s been like that for years.

  • JB

    Had an out-of-town friend come in through Union this weekend. When he went to buy a ST card, none of the three machines in the entrance by the MARC/AMTRAK side were working. We went up and asked the manager what was the deal, and he said “Well, it looks like none of them are working”. My friend asked (naively, as I knew the answer to this one) if there was a way he could get change to use the cash option, and the guy said he could “probably get it from upstairs” – which probably was the correct response, but given the fact that we only needed to use this option because of the stunning ineptitude of the machines/staff, I feel like we could have received a slightly more helpful response.

    Later during his trip here, my friend ventured off onto Metro on his own. At Metro Center, he had a question about which line to get on, so he went up to two managers who were having a personal convo. When he asked the question, they said “I don’t know, the map’s over there”. This means that either a) they were too incompetent at their jobs’ to answer a very simple question or b) they couldn’t be interrupted to answer a question while on duty.

    Along with the numerous delays and breakdowns over the weekend (red line), my friend who had just left NYC and Philly (!!!) commented on how much worse our system is than those others. TL;DR Bottom Line: Metrorail/WMATA is an absolute joke considering its place as the second-largest rail transit system in the country, and it starts with management.

    • NoNo

      Last week on Wednesday, none of the 9 (nine!) ST machine at Union Station street exit were working!
      All of them had the ST card reader broken.

  • Anon3

    Stunning levels of incompetence permeates every level of dc metro system – every day is another major accident waiting to happen….

  • Eponymous

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about WMATA, it’s that a new low is always possible.

  • AdmsMgn

    I take Metro daily to and from work and each day the trains are crowded. To this point, I think as long as Metro is running crowded trains and collecting fares (much of which is funded by the federal gov’t subsidy), not much will change. They really need ridership to drop off for weekday riders to really get the message that people are getting fed up.

    • strategerie

      I don’t think that would make them change at all. Then they would just complain that they can’t do anything because of a lack of revenue and the powers that be won’t invest more because they’ll say not as many people are using it anyways.

  • Q

    A sign of the depth of incompetence: few people even bother to comment on shocking stories like this one. Everything that can be said has been said, and all that’s left is to shake our heads and sigh. [Sigh]

    • anonymous

      +1. Yep. I am one of the most earnest critics of WMATA, but I didn’t have the energy to comment in this story, too (well, now I am, but you get the point). I did post a rant in the Revel/Rant section. I think people are realizing that this status quo is here to stay- no one can actually be held accountable, even with all the damning NTSB reports and deaths. It’s just the way it is. It shouldn’t be like this, and people should have recourse to change it- but lifting that weight is just too much when you factor in all the unpleasant issues that need addressing.


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