WASHINGTON — On Friday, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced plans to repair and rebuild parts of the Metro system — a yearlong project that is expected to begin June 5.
Wiedefeld acknowledged riders will have to make sacrifices during the massive undertaking, since the work will require track shutdowns, single-tracking for weeks at a time and fewer trains operating during the workweek.
Soon after the announcement, #wmata was trending on social media channels, as riders took to Twitter and Facebook to react to the news.
Many admitted the expected delays and shutdowns are not convenient, but necessary to ensure the safety of Metro commuters and employees.
On Facebook, Robert Boddie wrote, “People are complaining, but I’d rather read this than another article about someone dying on the Metro.”
Frederick Douglass Wallace echoed the sentiment on Facebook.
“Finally WMATA found someone with the fortitude to make tough decisions. It will be inconvenient, I am sure, but if it means less rail fires and the prevention of death, we can get through this.”
Some riders expressed outrage and blamed previous Metro management for current problems with the system.
“This boils down to pure neglect from past managements. I think the current Manger is doing a great job, but give past managements a grade of F. We are paying for it now. Pure neglect. Oh, maybe DC, MD, and VA should start putting their funding in from now on,” Jeffrey Jones wrote on Facebook.
To avoid the expected longer commutes, regular riders are considering alternative means of transportation.
Weekday commuters aren’t the only ones who will be impacted by the work. Under the SafeTrack plan, Metro will shut down at midnight seven days a week, suspending its extended 3 a.m. service on weekends.
And while most expressed annoyance, some couldn’t help but react to the news with a little humor.
Officials say repairs to neglected system needed; call for adequate funding
Elected officials agreed with riders that the problems that cause frequent fires, smoke and even derailments are the result of neglected maintenance. Here are few of the comments from officials from around the region.
Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine released a joint statement:
For years, we have been waiting to see a take-charge management plan to deal with Metro’s safety issues and we appreciate the General Manager’s release of a proposed repair plan today that grasps the urgency of the situation. This plan may not be welcome news for the hundreds of thousands of area residents whose daily commutes will be disrupted, but a bold and serious approach to improving Metro safety is necessary after years of neglected maintenance. Our constituents deserve better than tolerating the new normal of near-daily smoke incidents, power outages, arcing insulators and related service disruptions.
We urge the WMATA Board to give this plan serious consideration and put in place an approach that yields tangible benefits in the coming weeks and months. Only by showing results can we as a delegation step forward and advocate for a continued federal role in funding improvements to the system. It is clear that more work needs to be done to ensure alternative transit options are in place for impacted lines, and we strongly urge WMATA and the local jurisdictions to agree on those arrangements as soon as possible so that our constituents know their commuting options.
Roger Berliner, Montgomery County councilman and chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, called the plan “tough medicine.” Here is a portion of his statement:
The entire region has suffered because of the failure over many, many years to make the hard decisions necessary to maintain the system. The consequences of inaction are now crystal clear. As a result, our regional leaders have asked the new WMATA leadership team, led by the General Manager, to do what is necessary to fix it. Mr. Wiedefeld is answering that call with a 12 month plan to provide safe and reliable service.
….Executing this plan will not be easy. There is no question that single tracking will seriously inconvenience many already-frustrated riders. But stretching this work out over many years would create more serious impacts for riders and the region. The safety issues we are experiencing today would worsen while we wait. Our local governments and the federal government must work together to provide interim adjustments, such as additional buses, telecommuting, and other measures. The vitality of our region depends on our working together to support Metro’s efforts to provide safe and reliable service.
The council of governments also said that it is focused on “developing a long-term strategy to address WMATA’s funding and other challenges” this year and will meet with Wiedefeld to discuss the safety plan Wednesday.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia:
The ambitious maintenance plan announced today by Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is indeed painful medicine. This unprecedented action reflects the severe damage wrought from decades of neglect for basic upkeep and safety that cannot be undone overnight.
Single-tracking and shutting down stretches of Metro lines for long periods of time will create enormous disruption in the lives of the region’s riders, business, and the federal government for weeks or months at a time, but the fact such bold action is even necessary underscores the severe risk of the current situation within Metro.
Just last night service along a stretch of the Orange/Blue/Silver Lines was suspended during the evening rush hour due to another electrical arcing incident. Such scary events are becoming all too frequent. The frustration didn’t end there as today’s morning commute was once again fouled for thousands of riders due to train malfunctions and track signal problems.
This has been a decades-long march into mediocrity and dysfunction, and we must steady Metro from reeling from crisis to crisis and get it back on track. I commend the GM for the safety and personnel actions he’s already taken since coming on board, but all Metro employees, top to bottom, must step up to meet this challenge. The survival of their jobs and Metro itself demands nothing less.
I ask the region’s riders and businesses that rely on Metro each day for their patience in adjusting our daily lives and routines while these urgent repairs are made, but that goodwill must be rewarded. Metro and its partners must deliver. This will require the local, state, and federal governments to coordinate with Metro to mitigate the effects of this work and to provide commuter alternatives in the short term, and it will require the region to collectively consider how we adequately fund Metro for the long-term to prevent such challenges from arising again.
Metro has been our single greatest regional achievement, yet it has been allowed to slowly rot over time due to neglect. It’s time to restore America’s Subway to the place of prominence it once held, to set the standard for others across the nation, and to give our riders the world-class system they deserve.
Local businesses feel impact of Metro changes
Metro’s massive repair plan will not only affect riders’ commutes — it could cut into the bottom dollar of local businesses as well.
The head of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, James Dinegar said the business community is going over the plan and will be giving a station-by-station response to Metro.
“No one’s happy about this. We know it’s going to be disruptive, we have to minimize the disruption,” Dinegar said. “They’re not talking about shutting down the system, but they are talking about some single tracking, significant, and they are talking about some stations that will be shut down.”
Under the current plan, for example, the only station that feeds Fashion Centre at Pentagon City is scheduled to be closed in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Dinegar says this is going to be disruptive, but if people have a plan to work around it, then businesses will get through it. Also, he says the work is necessary, and businesses need to be ready and be flexible, because it’s coming.
WTOP’s Kyle Cooper and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report.