Metro committee approves $1 billion capital budget

The New Flyer Xcelsior buses right after being delivered to Metro. (Courtesy WMATA Photograph by Larry Levine)
Listen: Metro gets updated railcars

Ari Ashe | November 15, 2014 4:09 am

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WASHINGTON — A Metro committee on Thursday approved a $1.04 billion capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year that covers everything from escalator repairs to bus and railcar replacement.

Over the next year, Metro will use the money to purchase new buses, MetroAccess vehicles, and rehabilitate others. It will install 14 new escalators and rehabilitate 27 more, along with 12 elevators.

Also in the budget, long-term platform work at the Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue stations will be completed this year.

There’s also money for Momentum, a plan to upgrade capacity and improve service across the system by 2025. One part of the plan is to ease congestion at core stations like Gallery Place and Union Station.

“In the case of Gallery Place, we’ll put in a new corridor that allows people to not have to walk down to the end and everyone head for the same escalator,” says Metro General Manager Richard Sarles.

“At Union Station,” Sarles continues, “more vertical circulation, especially at the end where everyone lines up to take the escalator to go up to Union Station. You can stand there and wait for a few minutes to get out. It requires funding and working with Amtrak.”

Plans to build a pedestrian tunnel between Farragut North and Farragut West have been tabled. Such a tunnel will likely not get funded or built until next decade.

Currently, riders who want to switch between the Red, Blue and Orange lines at the two nearby stations must go out and walk on the street. However, Metro does not charge passengers with SmarTrip any extra fare for exiting and re- entering the system between the two stations.

The capital budget will also fund a small pilot program to test RFID chips in credit cards to pay fares electronically. Eventually, it could replace or offer another option to the SmarTrip card. Riders could simply tap their credit cards on a fare gate and instantly pay for a trip. Customers wouldn’t have to keep adding money to their SmarTrip cards.

The pilot program will be in 10 station entrances, 2 parking garages and 50 buses.

The capital budget also funds the new 7000-series railcars, which will eventually replace the old 1000-series cars, which investigators determined to have played a role in the fatal 2009 crash outside the Ft. Totten station.

The first 7000-series cars arrived last year, and 64 more will be delivered before July 2015. In total, Metro will have 528 new rail cars — 300 will replace the 1000 series; another 100 will replace the 4000-series cars. The final 128 will be new cars to expand the fleet.

Metro has an option to purchase another 220 new rail cars that will ensure each rush-hour train has 8 cars, rather than 6 cars. More rail cars means fewer people standing on the train during the rush hours.

A final decision on whether to purchase the additional rail cars will have to come before mid-2015. Metro will discuss how to raise the money with their jurisdictional partners in D.C., Maryland and Virginia between June and December 2014.

“If we didn’t purchase those cars, it would set us back five years. We need to exercise that option,” Sarles says.

Metro has also allocated $3.7 million in the next fiscal year for “tunnel leak mitigation,” which refers to problems along the Red Line. Last summer, Metro said it was considering shutting down a three-mile stretch from Friendship Heights to Medical Center to deal with chronic leaking problems.

Metro is still consulting with outside experts on how to deal with the leak. The agency hopes to find a way to fix the problem and avoid weekday shutdowns.

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