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Safety, Budget Woes Threaten DC Metro

From a context free Washington Post:

Safety, budget woes threaten to consume Metro

By Ann Scott Tyson
Sunday, February 21, 2010; A01

Washington’s Metro system, once a national model for urban transit systems, has deteriorated so badly that the National Transportation Safety Board plans to use a hearing this week into the June 22 crash that killed nine people and injured 80 as a case study for the adequacy of state and federal oversight at subways across the country.

The most sobering manifestation of Metro’s decline is a series of fatal accidents over the past seven months. Since the crash on the Red Line, four workers have been killed on the tracks and a subcontractor was electrocuted while working at a bus garage.

Metro, which opened in 1976, has earned an embarrassing distinction.

"No one can recall another time when the NTSB has had four open investigations involving a single transit system," NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. "When we see numerous accidents in a relatively short period of time, we want to determine what, if any, common elements there are that may need to be addressed."

The NTSB isn’t expected to issue a formal finding as to the cause of the June crash — officials say it will be months before they do that — but when it does, a new general manager will be responsible for implementing the recommendations and helping Metro’s board of directors find the money to pay for any equipment changes that are needed; changing the agency’s safety culture; reversing a recent decline in ridership; and erasing historic budget deficits. General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. plans to retire April 2, and officials expect the search for a replacement to last most of the year…

All of the uncertainty makes people who ride Metro increasingly jittery about using the system…

Delays, overcrowding and chronically broken escalators are daily realities for commuters who use the nation’s second-busiest rail system. Metro is reeling from a safety crisis, a lack of money and the loss of talent. The lack of funding, however, pervades everything.

A quarter of Metro’s fleet of about 1,300 rail cars have been in operation for more than three decades — and another quarter more than 20 years old. Long stretches of track in the 106-mile system need repair, part of a massive $11 billion list of capital upgrades required over the next decade…

Although much of the discussion of Metro’s woes revolves around immediate problems with safety, breakdowns and budgets, veterans of the system say the main culprit is a bureaucratic culture that has failed to shift from the focus on building the system to perpetually repairing a rail network to keep it running safely and efficiently…

Metro Board Chairman Peter Benjamin is acutely aware of the link between capital investments and safety and has lobbied hard to protect the capital budget despite the pressure to borrow from it to plug the gaps in the operations budget — an estimated $40 million in the current budget and $189 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"Safety involves replacing equipment and rehabilitating our facilities," said Benjamin, a former Metro chief financial officer who represents Maryland on the board. "If we don’t do that, they become unsafe."

A continuing Washington Post investigation has revealed a history of safety lapses and lack of oversight at the agency. Last year, Metro safety became a focus of at least three hearings on Capitol Hill, and the Obama administration cited Metro as it proposed taking over safety regulation of the nation’s subway and light-rail systems. The Government Accountability Office and the Federal Transit Administration began looking into Metro operations, and on Friday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) requested that a House panel convene another hearing on the troubled agency

At a time when Metro needs a significant overhaul, uncertainty grips the organization.

First, no one knows how Metro’s massive capital funding needs are going to be met. Metro’s operating budget is drawn partly from subsidies from local jurisdictions, fares, and parking and advertising revenue. But a large portion of its capital monies comes from federal funding streams that have recently expired, Metro officials said.

"The exact amounts of all those things are uncertain," said Sarah A. Kline, director of Metro’s Office of Policy and Government Relations and a former counsel to the Senate Banking Committee who has expertise in the transit industry.

"How much you will get from federal transit formulas is not certain, and it’s not certain we will get $150 million a year in federal dedicated funding, and we are in discussions with [local] jurisdictions for the next six-year program" to fund capital needs, she said.

The six-year Metro Matters program through which local jurisdictions in Virginia, Maryland and the District invest in Metro’s renewal ends in June, and the federal legislation that provides 80 percent of Metro’s capital funding, the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act, expired in September. Both must be renegotiated.

Although Congress last year authorized $1.5 billion over the next 10 years for Metro — funds that are to be matched by the local jurisdictions — Kline points out that there is no guarantee lawmakers will appropriate the funds annually…

Metro’s leadership is also in disarray. Catoe announced his retirement last month, Benjamin only recently became chairman and the board expanded to accommodate the first two of four new federal members whose roles are not clearly defined.

The leadership vacuum extends from the executive level into the ranks of middle managers and technical experts, said David Gunn, general manager of Metro from March 1991 to March 1994 who was recently asked to provide a sweeping assessment of Metro’s problems. In December, Metro announced that four top managers would be leaving or be reassigned, including Catoe’s top deputy and safety officer.

Officials say the fundamental message for customers is: Get used to fare increases, service cuts and perpetual repairs — and the inevitable delays and inconveniences they will cause

Why is this always the way of government run things? Whereas privately run things tend to get better with time?

And yet the same people overseeing the DC Metro want to oversee our healthcare.

They want to run it into the ground, too.

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, February 21st, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

6 Responses to “Safety, Budget Woes Threaten DC Metro”

  1. proreason says:

    But I thought that public transportation was so cheap that it would be a lark to keep the equipment in tip top condition.

    I guess we see again the kinds of disasters that can happen when Bush is in charge for 8 years.

    Taxes will have to be raised to fix this Republican created problem.

    I recommend putting Chris Dudd in charge of solving the crisis. He will need something to do while enjoying his hard-earned millions in well-deserved retireemnt.

  2. JohnMG says:

    ……”Since the crash on the Red Line…..”

    Shouldn’t somebody (you know, a particular ethnic group) be highly pissed off about this use of terms? I don’t se much difference between this and the “yellow line” reference a couple of weeks ago.

    The people who work for Metro…are they represented by a union? SEIU maybe? No wonder they can’t seem to keep the thing running. And Obama wants to spend BILLIONS on high-speed rail.

    Of course, the difference between the Metro and High-Speed is……..are you ready for this……..is now we have HIM!!!

    Do you feel lucky? Well, DO YA…..punk??!!

    • jobeth says:

      I think I’ll have to go see the ACLU. As a republican…who is represented by the color red, maybe I should be incensed.

      Then again…maybe it means ‘red’ as in communism…then maybe some of the progressives should be incensed.

      Then again, maybe it means ‘red’ as in American Indians….then maybe THEY should be incensed.

      Then again….ohhh, my head hurts!

    • Petronius says:

      The DC Metro has a Chinatown station that is served by the Yellow Line, the Red Line, and the Green Line.

      So far nobody seems to have taken offense.

    • U NO HOO says:

      Red, as in red ink?

  3. U NO HOO says:

    “Why is this always the way of government run things? Whereas privately run things tend to get better with time?”

    Just to remind everyone, back in the 60s private mass transit was taken over by government because mass transit doesn’t pay. Kick that dead mule, look up its butt. Why not just give vouchers for taxi rides?

    Maybe the billions for the Orlando-Tampa boondoggle should go to fix DC Metro?

    Just some thoughts, I’m sure there is a Mensan out there who can make my ideas work.

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