WASHINGTON – Metro’s trackwork overhaul that could include early closings or multi-day shutdowns of stretches of track will be shaped in part by a man with decades of experience in transit tunnels.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld says that was one of the top reasons he hired Patrick Lavin to be Metro’s new chief safety officer.
“He’s great, he’s going to be really good, I’m excited,” Wiedefeld says.
Lavin also has experience over his 33-year career at New York City Transit investigating bus and rail incidents.
Since a major fire near McPherson Square last month prompted Wiedefeld to order an emergency shutdown since the problems were so similar to those that led to Carol Glover’s death last year, Wiedefeld is hoping Lavin can get to the bottom of the issues.
“I want him to take a look at what happened between L’Enfant Plaza and McPherson, what did we have in place, how did we perform, how did other people involved in a situation like that…perform,” Wiedefeld says.
Metro also has a long list of training programs that need to be improved, and the long-made promise of an improved “safety culture”.
“I want to use him as some fresh eyes to look at some of those things,” Wiedefeld says.
Lavin will replace acting Chief Safety Officer Lou Brown, who decided last month to step down when it became clear he would not get the permanent job. Brown is leaving Metro next week, and plans to seek another job elsewhere.
Wiedefeld says he will talk to Lavin about plans to overhaul trackwork to get more done more quickly. While Wiedefeld has said he expects to announce the details of the major changes in a few weeks, the region has pressed for details sooner.
“As soon as I can get it out there, but I’m not going to do it until I feel comfortable that we’re getting to where we want to get to, that I’ve minimized any impact as I can…It’s a balancing act between the engineering and the technical needs, the safety aspects of it, and the customers,” he says.
For now, with the end of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Metro weekend track work is set to return next weekend. It includes single-tracking on the Red, Blue, Orange and Silver lines, and a Green Line shutdown between College Park and Greenbelt to finally replace a pedestrian bridge that collapsed last April when construction equipment slammed into it.
“We have not been delivering [improvements] as quickly as we can, as efficiently as we can, and we’ve been impacting the customers in a negative way, so I want to look at that whole approach,” Wiedefeld says.
While he will not say which way he is leaning to get more time on the tracks for workers to fix and replace old equipment, Metro has begun some weeknight single tracking as early as 8 p.m. rather than 10 p.m. since Wiedefeld took over in the fall, and he has mentioned the potential for other changes to late-night or weekend service.
“You have a huge amount of passengers that we have to serve during certain periods of the day, [at other times] you have other passengers that need to be served for other reasons, but just not at the volume, so are there other ways to serve them so that we get more access to the system? That’s what I’m trying to balance,” he says.