As service cuts loom, is Metro doing all the work it could?

WASHINGTON — As Metro gets set to cut service to get more time on the tracks, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld acknowledges Metro could be taking better advantage of the track time it already has.

“Oh, I totally agree with that,” Wiedefeld said last week after an outside review, which identified significant problems with the power systems, also noted that Metro often has just a single focus during typical night, weekend or midday work.

“Consider other uses [for] the same work zone to work within … that same time allocation,” the American Public Transportation Association’s Charles Joseph suggested.

That would mean, for example, having power crews fix cables at the same time crews were replacing fasteners or other rail equipment and cleaning drains.

Wiedefeld has cited the need for more time for inspections and maintenance as the key driver behind his push to permanently cut back hours on weekends. The Metro Board voted Thursday to hold a public hearing in a few weeks on four potential service cut options.

“The more efficient management is the first thing we have to do, but we know that the system has gotten larger; we’re putting more pressure on it. We can be as efficient as we can be, [but] you can’t just keep growing something and not maintain it,” Wiedefeld said.

In addition getting the work done, and done right, by people who right now do not always have adequate training, Joseph said Metro must fix problems in the Rail Operations Control Center that keep work crews waiting to even set up work zones.

“Historically, staff have been somewhat hesitant to start work if they know they cannot finish it before revenue hours — the first passenger train,” Joseph said.

The industry group has been asked to bring in experts again next month to review the troubled rail control center and recommend changes.

Some Metro Board members have expressed concerns that if work is not being done right already, additional time may not help.

District Department of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo asked Joseph and the other experts who worked with him on the power system review whether it’s possible that their recommendations of basic design changes mean that much of the work Metro is doing during round-the-clock work zones is being wasted.

“We’re advancing all this work, and accelerating it is great if we’re accelerating the right solutions, the right outcomes, but you raise questions about the orange boot design; you raise questions about whether or not we’re using the right insulators; you raise questions about the cable replacement program; you just raised another question about the [third-rail] coverboards. Well, if we’re out there doing all this work, you know — are we doing the right work?,” Dormsjo asked.

The reviewers did not directly answer that question, instead pointing to the enthusiastic support for the 24/7 track work program from Metro workers they interviewed.

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