The completion of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s SafeTrack rebuilding program is approaching. WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has announced the next steps to fix our regional transit system. The agency will undertake a new, robust preventative maintenance and repair program to build upon the work that’s happened during SafeTrack, when WMATA repaired or rebuilt 15 of the worst sections of the Metrorail system.
Beginning June 25, Metrorail will operate Monday to Thursday from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Friday from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
These new hours will allow Metro to institute a regular preventative maintenance program during the extended overnight period when the system is closed. The program will include more regular cable testing to prevent smoke and fire incidents, stray current testing, trackbed cleaning, switch maintenance, torqueing (tightening fasteners, joint nuts and bolts) to eliminate excessive strain and track geometry work to ensure correct rail alignment.
Once SafeTrack ends, Metro will operate regular rush-hour service again, with only a handful of exceptions for major capital projects that cannot be accomplished overnight or on weekends.
Three major projects to fix track interlockings — which allow trains to move from one track to the other at certain points in the system — are planned. When Metro “single-tracks,” it relies on these interlockings to continue to move passengers in both directions. These three rebuilding projects are scheduled during times of the year with lower ridership. Each will affect a handful of stations for 10 commuting days each.
First to be rebuilt, in August, will be an interlocking outside of the Branch Avenue station on the Green Line; an interlocking outside the Takoma station on the Red Line will follow in late November and early December; and in May 2018 it will be the turn of an interlocking outside the Huntington station on the Yellow Line.
As I’ve said before, though SafeTrack has finished, it isn’t the end; it isn’t even the beginning of the end. It is, at best, the end of the beginning of restoring and rebuilding our Metro system. Wiedefeld and his team have put together a serious plan to address the problems. The plan will require more funding as well as additional hours for maintenance and repair work over several years.
Continued regional cooperation is essential to make sure that Metro has the resources the general manager needs for the job we’ve asked him to do. Otherwise, we’ll continue to have the Metro system of today. With Wiedefeld’s leadership and adequate resources, we can again hope to have a transit system that moves the region forward.