Last week, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Metro experienced another derailment, this time on the Red Line at the Farragut North station. More than 60 passengers were on board at the time the train met a rail that cracked, causing three cars of an eight-car train to leave the tracks.
Several issues were evident after an initial assessment of the situation. The cracked rail was inspected multiple times just days before the incident and raised no red flags. Metro employees communicating by radio experienced spotty reception in “dead zones,” leaving them unable to effectively communicate in an emergency situation.
I commend D.C. Fire and EMS for their exceptional work in making sure everyone was evacuated safely. There were no injuries immediately after the incident or during the evacuation process. The emergency response was much better than the response to the L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident three years ago.
I take these issues very seriously and have called for a special Metro Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 25 at Metro headquarters, 650 5th St. NW, at 9 a.m.
All of this comes in front of a backdrop of a pivotal moment — both for Metro and for the region. For the first time in Metro’s history, it seems as though the region is on the edge of a deal that could bring dedicated funding to the aging rail system. The District Council, the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures and the U.S. Congress have bills which would address funding and governance.
While this has been the most encouraging moment in the ongoing attempt to secure dedicated funding, regional leaders have to meet various deadlines in order to avoid going off a cliff on this issue. A critical benchmark for the region is March 10, when the Virginia General Assembly adjourns. A bill for funding must be approved by that day by both the Virginia and the Maryland legislatures (Maryland’s session ends April 9).
The District Council works year-round and a hearing will be held by the Committee on Finance and Revenue in February to discuss our proposal for a dedicated funding contribution: the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Dedicated Funding Act.
The second important benchmark is July 1. If a dedicated revenue source is not identified for Metro by this date, then the system will experience drastic service cuts that will affect the entire region.
Incidents such as the latest derailment underscore the case for bondable, dedicated funding for Metro, which is desperately needed. I implore the jurisdictions to come up with the funding source to help fix the region’s transit system.
Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.