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Metro GM Talks About Service, Dulles Rail

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., starting his second year in the job, cited progress with the system's safety and reliability but outlined several significant problem that still need attention. In a press conference this morning to mark his one year anniversary, he also defended the Dulles rail project against some of the criticisms the Federal Transit Administration leveled against it last week.

He also confirmed that Metrorail ridership is up since the fare increases on Jan. 6 -- by 1 percent overall and 2.6 percent on weekdays, according to Metro staff -- but said it was a couple of months too early to make anything out of that. (See previous entry.)

Thinking back on his first year, Catoe noted he had remarked to the Metro board "That was no honeymoon." When he took over last winter, fatal accidents involving Metro employees and pedestrians were raising widespread concern about the system's safety. Later, he postponed the fare increased proposed at that time and instead cut several hundred positions at the transit authority.

Turned out that just postponed the riders' agony over a fare increase.

"Maybe that was the time to do the fare increase," Catoe said, looking back to last spring. It turned out that despite the staff cuts, the fare increase imposed this month was the largest in Metro's history. Still, Catoe should get credit for doing what so many of us were suggesting: Reviewing Metro's costs before asking for more money from riders. Also, he could have just accepted the fare increase proposed before he took over, but instead presented one last fall that he surely knew would become the John Catoe fare increase.

He Metro has done well at reducing the number of track fires that caused so many train delays last year. Metro still needs to do more on that, replacing fastners on the tracks and picking up the trash from the track beds. But a continuing issue is the mechanical problems with brakes and doors that cause trains to be taken out of service. He talked about improving reliability and safety as "the major goal of this year."

[The Post's Lena Sun was there, too, and she wrote a Web story focusing on what Catoe had to say about Metro's immediate needs list.]

Without any hedges, Catoe backed the plan to build a Metrorail line through Tysons to Dulles, despite the FTA's statements using Metro's funding needs to question the viability of the project. He noted that on June 28, 2007, the Metro board agreed to take control of the line once it was completed and maintained that Metro believes it can integrate the new train service with the existing lines.

Catoe is going to do an online chat on Metro's Web site at noon on Friday. Here's a link to post a question for him beforehand.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 30, 2008; 12:19 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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