WASHINGTON – Citing several Metro tragedies, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld urged sports fans Thursday who opposed service cuts to give him a break.
Dozens of Metro riders took the opportunity Thursday to testify against the general manager’s proposal to permanently cut late evening service hours to allow for more maintenance, inspections and repairs. Some riders spoke out about the proposal prior to the public hearing.
Washington Nationals fans complained, chanting, “Metro sucks!” about finding alternate transportation when Metro closed before the end of a playoff a couple of weeks ago.
Wiedefeld advised sports fans opposing the eight hours of service cuts to think about the worst safety incidents in Metro that stemmed from maintenance issues in the last few years.
“I think they have to understand that – just look back at the recent history of the agency and the tragedies that we’ve had,” Wiedefeld said, referencing the deadly L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident last year. “That’s what’s happening in my mind.”
In January 2015, electricity arced in a support to the power source third rail, called an insulator, near L’Enfant Plaza Station and caused smoke to enter the station.
Lengthy exposure to the smoke left one woman dead and injured dozens.
The National Transportation Safety Board performed an in-depth investigation of the incident and sent Metro a list of about 30 recommended actions to reduce the likelihood of the incident recurring.
Washington Nationals fan Katheryne Welsh, a Germantown resident, said she believes Metro should have maintained its tracks so the general manager wouldn’t have to propose service cuts.
“I’m angry about the safety issue,” Welsh said.
She said she was one of the tens of thousands of people who shouted “Metro sucks!” during the Nationals’ game Oct. 13 when an announcement of Metro’s last train departure time, due to SafeTrack, appeared on the big screens.
Welsh, 58, said she rode train that was offloaded due to a safety incident in April when she traveled from a game but could not recall the exact date.
When she was exiting, she heard sounds resembling thunder and saw a flash of light.
“It scared the crap out of me,” Welsh said.
Despite the incident, Metro is her means of traveling to and from games.
Wiedefeld said one of the reasons he proposed to cut late night service was so workers can repair tracks overnight and reduce the number of unscheduled track repairs occuring during the day.
“The goal of all of this is to minimize (unscheduled track work). It will never disappear — you know, arcing insulators occur in every train system… (and so do) issues happening with rail,” Wiedefeld said. “But we can minimize the amount of incidents (that would hurt service).”
Of four options presented, Wiedefeld said Thursday afternoon he heard the most support for what Metro calls option C: it would close stations at 11:30 p.m. which is a half-hour earlier than the current schedule Monday through Thursday, and on Friday and Saturday keep stations open until 1 a.m.
Like the SafeTrack schedule, stations would open at 7 a.m. Saturdays. On Sundays, rather than the 10 p.m. closing Wiedefeld initially proposed, stations would close at 11 p.m.
People traveling to the baseball stadium for games or to the Verizon Center for hockey matches are not the only ones who oppose the service cuts. Lessie Henderson, Oxon Hill resident, said she opposed the reduction of hours of Metro service.
“It cannot happen at the expense of the people that need this service the most,” Henderson said.
Wiedefeld proposed eliminating hours of service after midnight permanently.
For SafeTrack, the general manager ended hours of Metro service after midnight to allow more time for work on the tracks.
After talking with multiple transit agencies and transportation consultants, as well as the Federal Transit Administration, Wiedefeld said he determined that Metro needs more time to make repairs, inspect tracks and perform preventative maintenance on the tracks when trains are not traveling on the tracks carrying passengers back and forth.
Any change to the schedule that will last more than eight months must be put in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact, an action which requires a public hearing. That hearing took place Thursday.