WASHINGTON — A Metro Board committee voted to adopt a resolution to continue the schedule of reduced, post-SafeTrack hours of service through fiscal year 2019.
The Board Safety and Service Delivery Committee voted unanimously at Metro Headquarters Thursday to approve renewing the schedule of rail service in anticipation of year two of the preventive maintenance plan, as scheduled. The plan involves several actions, including inspecting cables and testing rails for a power problem called “stray current,” which contributed to smoke incidents in 2016. Another practice is torqueing, which includes tightening bolts of rail fasteners.
“If we want Metro to continue to work toward being a reliable system … this is the important work that [we need to do],” said Committee member Catherine Hudgins, who represents Virginia.
Laura Mason, WMATA chief of maintenance of way engineering, said track defect incidents decreased by 35 percent from Fiscal Year 2017 to Fiscal Year 2018. Emergency track work requests, which disrupt service, declined by 59 percent to 1034, compared to 2,528 in FY ’17.
Mason told the committee that torqueing and track-bed cleaning programs are behind schedule. The torqueing was behind, due to new tools not working as fast as managers had hoped. The track-bed cleaning was interrupted by the pilot to reduce water leaking into the tunnels on the Red Line.
Meanwhile, the other programs, such as inspecting and grinding parts of the interlockings on the tracks and testing for stray currents of electricity, have increased in scope and are ahead of schedule.
“The most-important lesson we learned from that [SafeTrack], is we can’t allow that to happen again,” Assistant General Manager Andrew Off told the Committee.
Off said the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority needs to continue to have more maintenance time – or time when trains aren’t operating – to complete the work to take care of the system and avoid the need to make many serious repairs in a short period of time. Metro succeeded in reducing the number of electrical fire incidents from 33 in fiscal year 2017, through quarter three, to 32 in fiscal year 2018 to date. Metro reduced the number of emergency track work requests (problems for which repairs must occur within 48 hours for safety).
General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said that continuing with the same, post-SafeTrack schedule is in Metro’s best interest.
“At the end of the day it’s going to make us a much-safer system,” Wiedefeld said. “We need to have this system in place, so we are recommending that we continue this for the full two years.”
Wiedefeld thanked Board chair Jack Evans, because the preventive maintenance program partially resulted from Evans’s support of the then-new schedule. Reduced hours of service on weekends harmed several of Evans’ constituents, he said.
The full Board will vote on the resolution within a couple of months.
To change the schedule – since the changes would last longer than a year – the Metro Board hosted a public hearing in 2016 about the proposed changes; they also had a Title VI analysis performed, to ensure the service schedule changes wouldn’t harm low-income riders more than everyone else.