Project to take a total of three years
BETHESDA – During the last six months, Metro has installed new LED lights on the tracks, in place of the existing track-bed lighting, at several underground stations.
Metro touted its progress on replacing track-bed lighting at stations with brighter LED lights in a news release last week. The new lights are part of a project that will cost $50 million, and which Metro scheduled to take two-and-a half more years to complete in all stations.
The Federal Transit Administration first ordered Metro to improve the tunnel lighting in 2015.
The LED lighting on the track beds will make the stations brighter and increases visibility, according to the Metro news release. 15 stations, including Red Line stations Bethesda and Friendship Heights, have new track-bed lighting installed so far.
Susan, a rider who did not want to use her last name, said she was unaware that crews had replaced lighting at the Bethesda track bed. She rides the Metro daily.
“No, I did not notice it,” Susan said, standing on the Bethesda platform Wednesday.
Friendship Heights resident Bill Rhodes, a rider who boards the Metro at the Friendship Heights Station, disagreed, saying the new lights made the stations look brighter.
“I think it’s improved the aesthetic of the stations,” Rhodes said. “They used to be dark and dingy.”
Rhodes said he observed the lighting had changed at Friendship Heights and on one side of the Tenleytown Station platform during the last few weeks.
According to the news release, Metro can replace the track-bed light fixtures only when no trains are operating on the tracks and, in some instances, they can install the lighting only when the station is shut down. Therefore, upcoming lighting replacement will require single-tracking and shutdowns, starting this month.
On June 8, 2017, then- Assistant General Manager Andy Off told a Metro board committee that the preventive maintenance program for fiscal year 2018 was scheduled to include the “lighting rehabilitation project,” “which involves “re-lamping all the tunnels.”
Crews started replacing fixtures in June 2018, according to the news release.
Fiscal year 2019 began the following month.
The Federal Transit Administration ordered Metro in a Dec. 5, 2015 safety directive to install lighting in the tunnels.
According to a document with FTA’s record of how many safety problems Metro corrected, Metro fulfilled this safety requirement for the lighting replacements back in March 2017.
The FTA has received criticism in the past from members of Congress for taking too long to make the Metro safe rail system safe.
Several stations had the track-bed lighting replaced for one set of tracks but not the other, or have not been replaced at all, but they will require single-tracking or a shutdown for workers to replace the light fixtures.
Metro will later replace the platform lights — indicating an approaching train and when a train has arrived. According to Metro’s safety tracker, listing progress on FTA requirements, Metro determined that the risk to safety from the platform lighting is a moderate safety risk.
Low visibility and lighting were problematic in 2015 when the L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident occurred, according to the safety directive tracker from FTA.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators also discussed lighting in Metro tunnels after their investigation of the L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident. During the incident, L’Enfant Plaza Station and the nearest tunnel filled with smoke, then smoke entered a train that was stopped in the tunnel. D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel rescued riders, but several problems caused evacuation to take longer than NTSB investigators said it should have. The incident left one woman dead and 90 people injured.
The FTA re-issued an order after taking over the role of state-level safety oversight agency from the Tri-state Oversight Committee. Considering the L’Enfant Plaza incident, the FTA said that Metro needed to make lighting brighter in the tunnels and LED lights are seen as a start, according to Metro officials.
“In response to the January 12, 2015, incident near L’Enfant Plaza station, WMATA will begin an annual maintenance program to replace every light and light fixture cover in the tunnels, to include rehabbing covers where appropriate to recycle materials,” according to FTA’s Dec. 5, 2015, safety directive. “The campaign will begin in May  and will take approximately four years to complete all 88,044 light fixtures in the entire system, using two six-person crews.”
FTA gave Metro until 2022 to finish increasing the brightness in the tunnels. FTA officials wrote that Metro met the requirements for the directive when it created a plan for installing and maintaining the lighting, in March 2017, although the lighting had not yet been installed.
Phone calls and emails to the FTA were not returned before deadline.