Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jerky Rides will Continue

Photo courtesy Tracktwentynine

From C.H. Schmitt:
Brace yourselves – that jerky ride and those irregular gaps between trains that bedevil Metrorail are likely to continue until at least well into next year.

Metro’s newly named general manager and chief executive, Richard Sarles, appeared before Metro’s Riders’ Advisory Council Wednesday night. In a presentation and Q&A session, he gave the bad news about return to automatic train control, and that manual control of the trains will continue indefinitely.

Before going back to automatic control, Metro first must replace its track circuit modules; a contract is going out for that on the Red Line, with other lines to follow.

Then, one National Transportation Safety Board recommendation following the fatal Red Line crash is that Metro do an analysis of its signalling and automatic train control systems.

That analysis may be complete late this year or early next year, Sarles said. But after that, Metro will still need to deal with whatever findings result. Sarles said he’s not comfortable going back to automatic control until that whole process is complete.

On other matters, Sarles said:
  • Metro will be more aggressive about taking advantage of off-peak times to do system rehabilitation and safety work. That means more things like holiday weekend station closings.
  • Metro is hearing reports that Congress may balk at appropriating the $150 million annually it earlier pledged to provide for capital projects. Not getting that money, which also brings matching funds from Metro’s three jurisdictions, would be a severe blow to Metro’s rebuilding efforts, he said. “That will be devastating. We will continue to fall farther and farther behind.”
  • Reflecting rider concerns, Metro plans to step up its enforcement of litter and eating/drinking rules. Sarles said he didn’t know if that would involve tickets – recall the infamous French fry incident – but in any case, the effort will seek to remind people of the rules.
  • Costs to address safety issues means there won’t be money to increase the size of Metro’s railcar fleet, at least for now. More cars mean there can be longer trains, that carry substantially more people. Ditto for the suicide barriers that bar people from getting down onto the tracks.
  • The latest seating design for Metro’s new 7000-series cars calls for “transverse” seating – the way seats are now, arranged in rows across the car – with the ability to convert to bench-style “longitudinal” seating along sides of cars in the future if the need arises to pack more people in.
  • There will be continuing redeployment of Metro police away from desk jobs and special details and into trouble spots like Gallery Place/Chinatown and L’Enfant Plaza stations. More police dogs will be out, too.
  • A report on the effect of peak-of-the-peak fare surcharges should be ready in a month or two. That might answer questions like: Did the surcharge drive people away from the busiest times in the system, and has the surcharge produced as much revenue as hoped.
(C.H. Schmitt is a member of the Riders’ Advisory Council.)

Other items:
Metro plans for higher salaries (Examiner)
Event: Improving Metro Governance (Facebook)
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