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Posted at 9:40 AM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Metro report shows rail problems

By Robert Thomson

Metrorail riders have grumbled this winter about slow and uncertain trips. The transit authority has some numbers to support their complaints. The latest performance report, covering January's service, puts Metrorail's on time rate at 88 percent, about where it was in December. The goal is 95 percent.

Metrobus's on time performance was rated at 79 percent. In a sense that was better than Metrorail's showing, because the goal for Metrobus is an 80 percent rate.

What's the upside? It's the fact that Metro is making this information available to riders and saying publicly how it plans to make things better. The monthly Vital Signs reports were launched last year under Richard Sarles, who was then the interim general manager and now has the permanent job.

But I'm not done with the downsides. The transit authority has another Metrorail measure called rail fleet reliability. This statistic, which measures the number of miles between rail car failures resulting in delays of more than three minutes, is used to gauge the effectiveness of the railcar maintenance program. So the greater the distance between delays, the more reliable the rail cars are.

In January, rail fleet reliability decreased by 14 percent.

The transit authority's report, to be presented to the Metro board's customer service committee on Thursday morning at Metro headquarters, says the much of that decline is attributable to problems with the 2000, 3000 and 5000 Series cars. Those are the middle-aged cars. The 1000s are the oldest and the 6000s the newest.

The 2000 and 3000 Series are more than a third of the fleet. Metro says they had a significant increase in door malfunctions in January. Problems with the 5000 Series included more door and brake malfunctions, as well as mechanical problems with the automatic train controls.

Metrorail cars come in sets of two. Riders won't encounter a train made up entirely from one generation of cars. After the Red Line crash in June 2009, Metro began placing the oldest cars, considered the least resistant to crash damage, in the middle of trains, where they would be less vulnerable. Those 1000 Series cars are surrounded by the newer cars. A malfunction on one car is enough to force the train out of service in many cases.

Metro's report says the 1000 Series cars showed some improvement in brake reliability. In fact, January was the third consecutive month for such improvement. The 6000 and 4000 series also experienced higher reliability in January. [Read more about rail car reliability in my Dr. Gridlock column on Thursday in The Post's Local Living section.]


On-time measurement for the bus fleet can be a lot squishier, because traffic congestion and bad weather are often significant factors in delays. However, Metro said that on-time statistics for January showed that the buses's performance improved for four consecutive months. The rate for January was three percentage points better than December's. (Riders will recall January's weather problems. Metro noted that the January data does not include the times when bus service was suspended because of snow emergencies.)

Metro's effort to improve management of bus operations goes back a while, and the transit authority said the performance improvement reflects that effort. Supervision on the street and in the office has improved, the transit authority said. Meanwhile, the authority pointed out, drivers who get new route assignments each June in a regular service realignment have gotten much more familiar with their new routes by January and a natural improvement in service occurs.

How do the stats stack up against your experience this winter on the trains and buses?

By Robert Thomson  | March 9, 2011; 9:40 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Next: Forest Glen Station reopens


It's only an upside if you believe what Metro tells you.

Problem is, there's no reason to.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | March 9, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

The 5000 series cars are a disaster, and have been from the day they were introduced. They will be haunting Metro for the next 30 years.

Posted by: dal20402 | March 9, 2011 5:20 PM | Report abuse

What does metro consider "on-time"? If memory serves it was a very liberal definition that almost no one else would consider as "on-time". Something tells me they're less than 75% on-time in reality.

Posted by: Razor04 | March 9, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Are there any stats of complaints about Metro staff and bus-drivers? They're horrible.

Posted by: Hammerino | March 10, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Is the Circulator counted in the on-time statistics for Metro Bus? I have waited 45 minutes for the Circulator on K Street on several occasions!

Posted by: tmand | March 11, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

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