WASHINGTON – It’s a tough time to be a Metrorail rider.
After three major problems on the Metro’s Red Line in just the last week led to rush hour delays, Metro’s general manager Thursday apologized to riders, explained what went wrong, and what Metro is doing as a result.
Thursday morning, a train’s brakes locked up outside Fort Totten, so other trains were single-tracked around it until the train was fixed.
“We then went to return two-track operation (and) we had a problem with a switch by Fort Totten that exacerbated the delays that we were seeing,” said Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles outside Metro headquarters.
Sarles said it’s not an isolated problem.
“We have had a number of trains with brakes that lock up. This is an engineering issue that we have recognized and are working on, and we will resolve that issue so we reduce this type of incident. We had to do the same thing if you recall, when we had malfunctioning doors.”
Wednesday’s Red Line troubles forced trains to single-track between Dupont Circle and Van Ness, again causing delays for riders during the morning rush. A wire came loose from the ceiling of the tunnel outside Woodley Park. The wire, part of an old radio system, had corroded.
Sarles says a new digital radio system is close to being fully operational.
“Our response time to this incident in terms of fixing the cause of it was not acceptable,” he said.
As a result, Metro will be looking at ways to get repair crews on scene faster. Sarles says it may be an issue of better staging those crews.
The third incident happened last week and involved a piece of maintenance equipment that leaked hydraulic oil onto the tracks. The manufacturer has been brought in to look at the equipment and others like it.
The oil leak also delayed weekday morning riders.
Sarles said each of these incidents had a different cause, but they had the same result for passengers.
“They suffered extraordinary delays, which I apologize for. As a commuter myself, I know how frustrating it is to be delayed and to sometimes have inexplicable things happen to you like being offloaded from a train on a crowded platform to have to wait then for two or three trains. I apologize for that. That’s not the way we want to treat our customers.”
Sarles says he thinks the problems would be worse if Metro was not in the middle of a major system overhaul.
“We’re halfway through our rebuilding effort, we still have two or three years to go throughout the system,” Sarles says.
While there was no link between the cause of this week’s problems, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says the end result for customers is clearly the same — people getting to work late.
“It’s always easier to build a new system then it is to rebuild one that deteriorated to the level that Metro did,” Stessel says.