Manual Metro trains to continue
Metro's trains will continue to be operated in manual mode until next year, according to an estimate from transit authority CEO Richard Sarles during an appearance before a meeting of Metro's Riders' Advisory Council (RAC) on Wednesday night.
Sarles said that before train operators return to automatic, Metro must first replace roughly 1,500 track circuit modules that the National Transportation Safety Board warned could malfunction. Metro has begun issuing contracts for that work on the Red Line.
In addition, Metro must carry out an analysis of the rail signal system, another recommendation by the NTSB, and make any necessary safety upgrades. The analysis will not be completed until late this year or early 2012, Sarles said.
"I would not be comfortable going back to automatic train operations" until the analysis and any changes are complete, Sarles said.
Metro trains have been operating on manual as a safety precaution since the June 2009 Red Line crash, making for a slower and jerkier ride for customers.
Critical to those safety upgrades and other capital improvements, Sarles said, is $150 million in federal funding that is slotted for elimination in some Congressional budget-cutting proposals.
"That is a cornerstone of the capital program," said Sarles, who said the loss of the $150 million in federal funding, which is matched by local jurisdictions, would be "devastating" to Metro.
"We will continue to fall further and further behind," he said. The federal contribution, which must be allocated each year, requires the District, Maryland and Virginia to provide an equivalent match.
He called Metro's new six-year, $5 billion capital improvement program the largest in the history of the transit agency, and asked customers to be patient with weekend work closures that will gradually rebuild many parts of the system.
"It's like maintaining a highway, if all you do is patch the potholes, eventually it becomes a pretty rough ride," and eventually it's necessary to shut down a lane. "That's basically what we're doing here," he said.
Addressing other customer concerns, Sarles said riders have raised concerns about the amount of litter and food consumption in the system, despite the ban on eating and drinking in the Metro system. He said he planned to increase efforts to educate riders about the rules. In addition to displaying signs, "we are also going to be personally reminding people," he said.
To better address customer complaints, he said he was going to encourage riders to provide more detail on the time and location of incidents so that Metro can more easily follow up, as part of a larger effort to improve the customer call center.
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