Many Metrorail disruptions ahead
During my online chat Monday, several travelers submitted questions about Metro's maintenance program. I'd like to use one such question to discuss what's ahead for Metrorail in 2011.
Metro Maintenance: "Why is Metro continuing to perform track maintenance that inconveniences riders, or is this Metro playing catch-up for neglecting routine maintenance?"
Metro is starting 2011 with a major track rehabilitation project that will shut down Foggy Bottom Station during the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. The main impact of the weekend's work will be on the Orange and Blue lines, but there also will be several disruptions for maintenance along the Red Line.
During 2010, the transit authority made heavy use of the holiday weekends, when ridership is usually light, to shut down both sets of tracks for repairs to the rails, platforms and tunnels. That's in addition to the normally heavy schedule of weekend work that involves closing one track to create a work zone while trains in both directions take turns on the other track.
In 2011, the repair schedule is going to get even more aggressive. Look for frequent shutdowns at various points on the Red, Orange and Blue lines. During Presidents' Day weekend in February, Smithsonian will be the focal point. But the shutdowns will not be confined to the long holiday weekends.
There's just too much to do. Even as Metro continues with the long-term rehabilitation of the Red Line, the long-term rehabilitation of the Orange and Blue lines gets underway. On just about any weekend this year when Metro does not expect big crowds on the trains, riders are likely to find one or two tracks shut to make room for maintenance projects.
Is all this the result of some big screw-up on the part of Metro's current management? I don't see it that way. Today's bosses didn't have anything to do with the design of the system or its financing. For our great benefit, an earlier generation built the second largest subway system in the nation, but now we have to fix it.
Some of the newer generation of transit managers wonder if the earlier generation ever dreamed that their beautiful new subway would ever have to be fixed. Many points in the system are not easy for workers to get at while the trains are running -- and the trains are almost always running.
As a big system with so many moving parts gets older, Metro managers are looking for every opportunity to make repairs. We've seen more examples lately of single-tracking around work zones set up at midday. When the reduced number of trains running means that the work zone creates little impact on the train schedule.
But the service delays and disruptions of 2011 will not be entirely about fixing what's broken. At various points, train operations will have to make way for work on new projects. Blue Line riders will experience a disruption because the Wilson Bridge project is working on the Telegraph Road interchange. Orange Line riders will encounter delays in the Falls Church area, where the Dulles Metrorail project will be working on connecting the new line to the Orange Line tracks.
Over the past several years, as the pace of maintenance has picked up, Metro has done a better job at communicating with riders on the schedule. The holiday weekend disruptions get a lot of advance publicity. But the schedule for the more routine single-tracking weekends is published by Metro the month before the work takes place.
The rider complaints that I receive focus on two concerns: They say that station managers often seem ill-informed about the plans and can't respond to questions. And they say the previously announced train schedule for the disrupted lines often folds in the face of reality, as gaps between the trains increase.
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