Metro this weekend will be finishing up a major safety improvement that was due three years ago, as it undertakes major track work on the Green and Red lines.
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said Thursday the agency will be installing the final guards on special sections of tracks known as "number eight turnouts" to prevent derailments.
"We were not addressing it as aggressively as we should have, and that has changed," Sarles told reporters.
|Metro passes $2.52 billion budget that includes fare hikes|
|Metro's board of directors approved a $2.52 billion budget Thursday for the fiscal year that begins July 1.|
|To help pay for the budget, a slight decrease from the current $2.6 billion budget, Metro will be raising fares on bus and rail, plus raising parking fees when the budget begins. It also will be relying on a 7.6 percent increase in subsidies from local jurisdictions' tax rolls to pay for the operating costs.|
|The biggest change for riders will be a $1 surcharge on any trips they make using a paper farecard on the rail system. Bus riders who pay cash fares will continue to pay a 20-cent surcharge. That will make the $5 SmarTrip card a deal once a rider takes more than five rail trips or 25 bus trips.|
|On Thursday, the Accessibility Advisory Committee asked the board to delay the surcharge until riders had more places to load fares on to their SmarTrip cards. Currently, riders can add more money online, at rail stations, while boarding buses or at a handful of sales offices. Many of the options are not accessible to those with disabilities, the committee said.|
|Metro board member Mortimer Downey also noted having riders lined up on buses to reload money on to their cards would defeat the purpose of the surcharges. "We want to make sure we're not making conditions worse," he said.|
|But the agency said the fare changes, which were previously approved, are already under way.|
|The agency said it will add SmarTrip vending machines to the 10 stations that sell the most paper farecards: Foggy Bottom-GWU, Dupont Circle, Union Station, Smithsonian, Rosslyn, Pentagon City, Farragut West, Gallery Pl-Chinatown, Vienna/Fairfax-GMU and Reagan Washington National Airport. The rest of the system's stations will get at least one machine by October, spokesman Dan Stessel said, and Metro officials hope to eventually have one at each entrance.|
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended the agency add the guards, similar to the railings on a toddler's bed, after a January 2007 derailment near the Mt Vernon Sq/ 7th St-Convention Center stop. The second-to-last rail car came off the tracks as it neared the station, injuring 23 of the 80 riders on board.
In October 2007, the independent federal investigators said Metro should install the guards at similarly angled parts of the track system by 2009 to prevent future accidents. Metro had already installed some of the equipment by the time of the accident but had about 108 left, according to Metro's figures.
Now, three years after the NTSB asked for the work to be finished -- and five years after the derailment -- the agency will have added all 178 guards.
As early as March 2008, Metro had told the NTSB it was not feasible to finish the work by 2009 because of "procurement, manufacturing, and operational limitations."
Sarles' predecessor, John Catoe, then wrote to the NTSB in December 2009, saying the work was scheduled to be finished by June 30, 2012.
The NTSB told Metro that five years was not acceptable. In June 2010, Sarles responded that 114 of 178 had been finished. He said he worked with his team to come up with a plan.
But Metro is finishing the work only a month before Catoe had promised to have it done.
Even so, the completion of the turnout guards does not mean an end to track work.
In addition to other maintenance, the agency still has to replace most of the track circuits in the system, noted by the NTSB as one of the pieces of equipment that caused the deadly 2009 Fort Totten crash.
The work is one of the unresolved recommendations the NTSB has made. Metro still has 27 open recommendations, the NTSB said Thursday, 10 of them dating to before the 2009 crash. Sarles said Metro has submitted paperwork to close out some of the outstanding safety problems but noted others will take years to resolve as the agency waits for rail cars to be made.