Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Words vs. Actions

After last Monday's crash, locals involved with Metro were quick with words. Let's see what actions follow. Feel free to email with worthy additions to this list, which is not in any order and surely is not comprehensive.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D - Md.)
“I want to say that to the extent that that contributed to the injuries and the loss of life here, we need to look at that and that will be obviously impetus for making these cars safer. As you know, it’s been 30 years, and as you know, the Reagan administration recommended no further money towards mass transit. Congress did not adopt that recommendation. In fact, Metro has received probably more federal funds than any other metro system in the country." *

(Hoyer said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation soon that would finalize plans to provide $1.5 billion in federal funds over 10 years to maintain the aging system.) *

"I want to wait before jumping to the conclusion that this was a lack of money" that helped lead to the loss of life." *

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.)
"The events of Monday evening draw heightened attention to safety conditions on the Capital region's highly-utilized Metro system. With Metrorail transporting an average of one million riders each workday, we have a responsibility to ensure that vital infrastructure upgrades and safety recommendations are implemented in an appropriate time and manner. I intend to work closely with my colleagues in Congress and area leaders to determine how such a disaster could have occurred and what measures must be carried out in the near-term to prevent further incidents that jeopardize passenger safety." *

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty
"We do have an independent train system… [but] let’s not try and disperse the blame. Let’s put it on the decision makers and the leaders." *

Christopher Zimmerman, Arlington Co. Board/Metro Board
"Everybody knows that the 1000 Series needs to be replaced. We’ve been talking about it for years. It’s precisely the reason you need additional funding.” *

Metro GM John Catoe
“We have a safe system. We have suffered a tragic accident and it renews and intensifies our commitment to the safety of Metro’s customers and employees. We will not rest until we have the answers. We will take action to improve safety and ensure the confidence of our customers.” *

I am working to discover the cause of the accident to make any fixes that we need to make so that this does not happen again. That is what I am focused on. I am not focused on whether others think I should resign. *

First and foremost, I want to assure our riders that the Metrorail system is as safe as it can be. We have been working with the NTSB to find the root cause of this tragic accident. *

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
"We need safer, faster rail to help ease traffic" *

"This final installment on a federal commitment to Metrorail is timely as commuters in this region are focused on Monday's tragedy near Fort Totten. Our Metro partners must continue to work together to make sure Metro is able to provide safe, efficient public transit service." *

Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.)
“While we may not know the cause of Monday’s tragic collision for some time, it shined a spotlight on the dire need for improvements and upgrades to Metrorail’s infrastructure. Funding shortfalls have caused Metro to make repairs instead of replacing aging equipment and structures. "This latest $34.3 million grant is urgently needed. However, only a steady, major stream of funding will help WMATA make the investments needed to reassure the commuters, locals and tourists, families, and all Americans who ride Metro that the system is as safe and reliable as we can make it.” *

Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.)
“While we do not know the exact cause of Monday’s tragic collision, we do know that Metro’s infrastructure is aging – and for too long funding shortfalls have meant short-term fixes in place of long-term solutions. This $34.3 in funding will provide an immediate, much-needed infusion of capital to help WMATA’s process of updating its infrastructure. But more needs to be done. As Maryland’s senior senator, I will keep fighting to make sure WMATA has the federal funding it needs to keep commuters safe and on the move.” *

Gerald Connolly (D-Va.)
"That's just an unacceptable price for the public to pay. The Metro system is a success story warts and all but in that success were planted the seeds of this kind of tragedy." *

Metro Board Chair Jim Graham
"These are cars that we are all committed to replacing and we are working to get the money to do that." *

"The cars do not appear to be the cause of the accident. The way the car was crushed was a consequence of the accident. If you can control the consequence, you don't have the issue of the cars. The cars themselves, absent this type of impact, are safe and they have been operating safely." *

Graham has said the transit agency is "aggressively seeking" to replace all of Metro's 1000 Series cars, and had prior to the crash put out requests for proposals and received bids for the new cars. But even if Metro did order new cars today, delivery would take three to five years, he says. *

"D.C. Carribean Carnival this weekend. Hope to see you there! http://is.gd/1eRrL - www.grahamwone.com" *

Metro board chairman Jim Graham, in response to the news that 1,000-series cars still lead many trains, said, "Any kind of hazard that's presented to our traveling public is not acceptable to us and all of that is being figured out right now."Graham promises that this week a "significant number" of 1,000 series trains will be removed from service altogether. *

Metro Board member Michael A. Brown
"The best minds from law enforcement and transportation are investigating this tragedy, and I am confident that the public will receive some answers." *

Other news:
Reconfiguring trains to take weeks (WaPo)
Red Line still slow going (WaPo)
Service held for Metro victims (WTOP)
$100 million suit filed (Washington Examiner)
Metro Rejects Proposal to Scrap 1000-series Rail Cars (WJLA)

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Better Communication

According to many in Twitterdom, Metro did a better job communicating after yesterday's suicide on the Red Line. Notably missing were vague, seemingly euphemistic and frankly uninformative terms Metro often uses like "disruption," "incident" and "situation." These terms are useless for riders making commuting decisions.
The e-alerts, too, were better. The also were in plain English and conveyed, as well as a short message can, what was going on.
To be fair to Metro, we thought they did a good job with tweeting alternate bus routes the night of the crash and anything that appeared to be written by a person was more informative than the robo-messages.
When asked about the apparent improvement, a Metro spokesman said they hadn't changed anything in the wake of criticism it received after last week's crash. They send out a mixture of both human generated messages and automated messages. Metro said when they have the staff available, they'll supplement automated messages with live ones, with a goal of "all live" for major problems.
"It’s not an issue of what changed, our goal has always been to get our messages out to as many people as we can," the spokesman said in an email exchange. "Like everything else though, we are spread very thin, remember, we just lost 300 positions for budget cuts last month and lost like 160 a few months ago, which is why we use the automated feed for twitter."
Metro added that they continue to work to get their automated feed, which has, they say, 52,000 subscribers, to convey as much information in as few characters as possible.

Here are yesterday's tweets from @metroopensdoors:
  • Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due to a report of person struck by a train at Forrest Glen station.
  • Red Line: Trains are sharing the same track between Forest Glen & Silver Spring due to a report of a person struck by a train at Forest Glen
  • Red line trains will single track between Silver Spring and Forest GlenCustomers on the Red line should expect delays from Glenmont to Silver Spring throughout the rest of tonight's rush hour
  • Preliminary reports indicate the person, who died, was on teh tracks intentionally
  • Person struck, killed by train at Forest Glen station http://bit.ly/z5XSa

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Monday, June 29, 2009

No Way to Run a Railroad

Metro has posted a “News Q & A: June 22 Red Line Collision” in an effort to communicate better about the events of a week ago.
Probably one key question we all want to know is “Are Metro’s 1000-series rail cars safe?”
To this, Metro says: “All of Metro's 1,126 Metrorail cars are safe, including the 1000-series rail cars. Metro is subject to oversight from the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC).”
That also appears to be the answer to a question we posed last week regarding oversight of WMATA.
But wait a minute.
In the aftermath of the accident, ABC 7 found that the TOC has "no office and it's not clear who is a member."
According to this excellent and scary Washington Post article from 2005, the TOC “has no regulatory authority.”
“The agency (WMATA) is able to leave safety issues unaddressed without fear of formal sanction because no state, regional or federal regulators have direct power over it.”
Furthermore, the article states, “Internally, Metro's safety department investigates accidents and develops policy recommendations to reduce risks. But it cannot require other departments to abide by its recommendations. The agency also lacks accountability, records show; it rarely fires people who commit serious violations.”
After Monday’s crash, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), held an online chat with the Washington Post, during which she said “There is a regional board called the Tri-State Safety Board. I have not heard of their interventions, but we are in the process of looking at what, if any, regulatory features are part of this system.”
If you Google "Tri-State Safey Board," that Post article is the only result, so she's probably refering to the TOC.
Metro’s odd position in a netherworld of criss crossing, often feuding jurisdictions not only impedes funding, it makes it unaccountable to anyone for such basics like safety.
Instead of pretending there's someone looking over its shoulder, Metro should be screaming for meaningful oversight. It would bolster incredibly the agency's bargaining position regarding funding, but it might shed light on some things WMATA would rather keep in the dark.
If a regulatory agency with teeth had told Metro "either get rid of those 1000-series cars or make them safer by 20XX," Metro would have been able to go to the jurisdictions and say "look, if we don't get money to replace or improve these cars, we're going to have to significantly cut back service. Our hands are tied."
One could easily imagine that under that scenario, the jurisdictions would fall over themselves to fund replacements given the "credible risk of the Federal workforce being stuck in the burbs," as one reader put it.
Stop pretending you have oversight, Metro. We'd all be better off if you played this one straight.

Of interest:
A cheaper route to Metro core capacity? (GGW)

Monorail ... Monorail ... Monorail

If you're not a Simpson's fan, you probably won't get this riff on one of their best episodes, "Marge vs. the Monorail," written by Conan O'Brien.
Basically, Springfield is swindled into buying a monorail made of state-of-the-art-technology, such as the "Seld-M-Brake," from the 1964 Word's Fair. It's a perfect analogy to Metro, which is underfunded, dilapidated, outdated and, worst of all, managed by incompetents.

This Simpsons episode is highly recommended. A so-so quality clip available here. Another clip here.

Other news:
Inside the crash (WaPo)
Washington Examiner Op/Ed piece on Metro's crash
Is automation good? (WaPo)
VRE raising fares (WTOP)
Metro's e-fails (Balt. Sun)

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Friday, June 26, 2009

We All Could Use Some Better Metro ...

Let's hope whomever wrote this meant the good kind. It has been a rough week for Metro commuters, particularly for the victims of Monday's crash. Here's hoping for a better go of it next week.

Caption contest will return next week.

Photo: urbanbohemian

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