The future of Metro: Sarles gives details, requests feedback

Michelle Basch,

WASHINGTON – Aggressive maintenance and improvement work is continuing in the Metrorail system, but construction won’t disappear anytime soon.

“We spent the last two and a half years investing in new rail cars, buses, track work, signals and many other things,” says Metro General Manager Richard Sarles. “In fact, two years ago, we were only spending $400 million a year in investment. Now we’re close to $800 million and we expect to get close to $1 billion for the next few years.”

Speaking earlier this month at a seminar hosted by the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, Sarles says it will take another five years for Metro to catch up and get out of the hole they’ve been in.

“But when we get done, it only returns us to where we were 10 years ago in terms of capacity,” he adds.

Once Metro does catch up, even more improvements will be needed, especially because the D.C. region is expecting a 30 percent increase in population over the next 30 years.

“Basically, the city of Houston is moving to Washington,” Sarles says. “Think about that.”

Sarles says Metro’s vision for the future includes trains that each have eight cars, instead of some that have eight and some that have six. To get there, the tracks and power system have to be improved to handle eight cars on every train.

“We operate now right at the very edge in terms of our tracks and power system,” he says. “More capacity [is needed], looking at our platforms, mezzanines, elevator and escalator improvements, especially at key transfer stations.”

Adding more tracks downtown is another priority.

“We only operate with a two-track system and there’s no more capacity,” he says. “The core of the Metro system cannot take additional growth, extensions, without increasing the capacity of the core itself.”

Metro’s Board of Directors has put together a long-term strategic plan for the first time in a decade. Sarles is inviting riders to read it and give their feedback online.

“What we’re asking people to do over the next several months as the board proceeds with its strategic planning effort is really asking to join in the conversation,” Sarles says. “What role do you see Metro playing? How does it support the business community? How does it support land use? What should we be doing?”

The images Sarles used during his presentation can be found here.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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