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Metro: Extensive track work for 4 more years

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Metro

Metro riders will have to weather about four more years of intensive track work on the train system, according to the agency's general manager.

That means more delays, waiting and closed stations in what seems like the new normal at Metro.

"In looking at the forecast of work we have to do to just get us back to where we were 10 years ago, it will take us about another four more years of that intense work," Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said Monday on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show on WAMU.

Train operator on leave for opening doors on wrong side

A train operator has been placed on paid leave while Metro investigates why the doors of a Green Line train opened on the wrong side Friday evening, exposing riders to the open track at L'Enfant Plaza.
The train heading to Greenbelt pulled into the station about 7:16 p.m., according to Metro spokesman Philip Stewart. Officials believe the doors were open on the nonplatform side along the entire length of the train for about three seconds.
No one was hurt, but one rider tweeted that another rider almost walked right out the door onto the tracks. The blog Unsuck DC Metro first reported the incident.
"The train operator has been removed from service, and the investigation is ongoing," Stewart said. "Discipline will be assessed based on the investigation findings."
The incident is the latest case of train doors opening on the wrong side or while trains are moving. A Green Line train operator was disciplined after opening the doors over open track in July. And in May, train doors opened twice while a train was moving, due to what Metro said was a mechanical problem. - Kytja Weir

Even once that major rehabilitation work is done, though, riders will see additional track work throughout the system as the agency continues normal upkeep, he said.

Metro riders have already endured several years of scheduled track work delays, with regular riders growing accustomed to the term "single-tracking," for when trains traveling in opposite directions must take turns sharing a single track. Riders also have gotten used to dealing with the unscheduled outages and delays that happen at any hour when trains or tracks break down.

The 36-year-old rail system has an extensive backlog of work after not properly investing in the rail system, Sarles said.

Metro has done maintenance work during nonrush hours for years. But it used to do much of its planned work overnight, in the hours between system closure and reopening at 5 a.m. Then Metro started the projects earlier in the evenings. It also moved from using the occasional three-day holiday weekend to using more holiday weekends in 2010, and then it started using regular weekends.

By July 2011, Metro created a calendar of track work covering nearly every weekend. Midday weekday hours and evening hours became normal times for trains to share a single track.

Earlier this month, Metro released a schedule running through June for when and where track work will occur. But Sarles added Monday that the work will continue on that pace throughout the year. He noted that the agency has eliminated its midday weekday track work, though.

Metrorail's ridership has suffered, especially during weekends, in recent months. But the agency has been hesitant to blame weekend track work for driving away riders, saying instead that a loss in federal transit benefits coupled with the fare hikes that occurred in July were pinching riders' pocketbooks.

Riders have complained that weekend delays make getting in the car -- or using another option -- much more appealing than taking a train. And Metro board member Tom Downs called on the agency last week to evaluate whether the work is deterring people from riding the system.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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