Metro board focuses on safety, smoke and service cuts

WASHINGTON — Increasing smoke and fire incidents on Metro, trains running red signals creating dangerous conditions, and a plan to cut weekend rail service are among the major issues set to come before the Metro board of directors Thursday morning.

Safety

The board’s Safety Committee is scheduled to hear from the head of Metro’s largest union about Metro’s long-promised improvements to “safety culture,” and to get updates from Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin on the steadily rising number of reported smoke and fire incidents, changes for worker protection on the tracks and red signal violations.

This month, one train passed a red signal without permission and nearly hit workers who were standing on the tracks. The train also ended up facing another head on. Metro moved to fire the train operator, who does have the right to appeal.

Another red signal violation that posed less risk to riders was reported the following week, and an additional red signal violation was being investigated near Reagan National Airport Wednesday afternoon.

If the Wednesday violation is confirmed following a full investigation, it would be Metro’s ninth red signal violation this year. The Federal Transit Administration is reviewing Metro’s history with the issue and is set to issue a final report soon.

With more combined smoke and fire incidents in each month so far this year than in the same month last year, Lavin is also scheduled to provide an update on Metro’s response to National Transportation Safety Board recommendations made following Carol Glover’s death on a smoke-filled Yellow Line train last year.

Service

The full Metro board of directors is expected to officially hear Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s proposal to cut weekend service.

The plan would make the early closures at midnight permanent on Friday and Saturday nights, and add a 10 p.m. closing on Sundays.

Several board members have expressed support for the goal of closing the system for additional hours, but there has also been backlash from riders.

Any permanent changes require public hearings this fall before a final vote.

There are a number of final votes set to be taken Thursday on other issues.

The board is set to approve changes to the “DC Kids Ride Free” program that will automatically give all public and charter school students free rides at all times of day on Metro trains and buses. In the past, students have had to register their cards before using them, and there were some time restrictions in certain cases.

Frustrations with that system are partly blamed for an estimated 3.8 million kids jumping over or going around fare gates last school year alone.

In a service addition, the board is set to sign off on a nine-month test of a new bus across the Potomac between National Harbor, Oxon Hill Park and Ride, Alexandria and Huntington.

The board’s Finance Committee approved the idea last month.

The approval would allow service to begin in October, before the new MGM National Harbor Casino opens in December.

Until now, the only bus service to National Harbor has been the NH1 route to and from Southern Avenue.

Separately, the board is also set to act on sales, hearings or development agreements for properties at Congress Heights, Capitol Heights, College Park and Greenbelt.

The Greenbelt report is contingent on where the federal government decides to put the new FBI headquarters.

The board is also scheduled to set public hearings on changes to some bus routes, and on changes to the King Street Metro station that would permanently eliminate parking there. The Kiss and Ride, and taxi area would be eliminated for about two years during the construction process that will eventually bring additional bus bays to the station.

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