8-car trains an endangered species?
The Washington region's travelers are about to engage in a complex and consequential debate over how to preserve the Metro transit system. A focal point will be the round of budget hearings set to begin March 22.
On this Sunday's Commuter page, I'll try to summarize the range of options (pdf) that the Metro board has presented for public comment. But right now, I want to focus on one particular money-saving proposal: Eliminate all eight-car trains at rush hour. Metro lists that as a potential savings of $6.23 million. Metro officials have said that the main savings are in reduced power use and reduced maintenance on the rail cars.
We need to have a serious debate about many cost-cutting measures and many ways of increasing Metro's revenue, almost all of which will be bad news for riders. The Metro board asked the staff to list every option that was legal and technically feasible.
But I think elimination of eight-car trains should be off the table. This isn't a legal or technical argument. It isn't about how one type of service cut might hurt more than another. This is almost, well, moral.
When Metro went to the region's governments -- and the taxpayers -- in 2004 and asked for more money to improve the long-term health of the transit system, they complied. One of the core goals of that capital-improvement program, known as Metro Matters, was to relieve crowding and provide for ridership growth by having 50 percent of peak-hour trains operating with eight cars.
As the Metro Matters program comes to an end this year and Metro goes back to the region's governments asking for a new financial commitment, we're not hearing much about that pledge. Instead, we're hearing that Metro fulfilled the pledge by providing "system capability for 50 percent eight-car trains."
Oh, swell. In other words, the rail cars were purchased and the power supply upgraded to the point that the transit authority could operate half the rush-hour trains at their maximum length. It's just that people don't actually get to ride them.
In fact, since the last of the 6000 Series cars arrived to complete the rail car purchases under Metro Matters, most riders have never experienced commutes in which half the trains were eight cars long.
Knowing that Metro has the "system capability" to provide those trains is not a very satisfying reward on the investment. Not for riders who are letting a couple of rush-hour trains go by before they can squeeze aboard.
And if I were among the leaders of the regional governments being asked to come up with more money for the next program, I'd first want to know why the riders didn't get what they were promised in this round.
Metro not only needs to knock it off about eliminating eight-car trains completely, it also needs to explain why it didn't meet the original goal in the first place.
March 10, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
Categories: Metro , Transportation Politics | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail
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