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How Metro handled inauguration and Women’s March

There wasn't much room on the trains as people headed into downtown D.C. for the Women's March on Washington. (WTOP/Dennis Foley)

WASHINGTON — Looking back on last month’s near-record ridership for both the inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Council members had a good question for Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

How was Metro able to operate with minimal issues?

“How did you do that? Did you just get lucky and nothing happened?” asked Jack Evans, D.C. council member and Metro board chairman, restating questions he had been asked.

“How did you make it work so well that we had almost no incidents on Metro on two of the busiest, most-stressful days that Metro has ever faced?”

Those questions were asked during a D.C. performance oversight committee hearing Thursday, of which Evans was also the chairman.

Wiedefeld said that aside from modified staffing, it wasn’t much different from a normal day for the system.

“We did have issues both days. Things did occur,” Wiedefeld said. “As you can imagine, that was an all-hands-on-deck 48-plus hours.”

Hundreds of police officers and members of the National Guard were brought in to help for Inauguration Day, and Wiedefeld said the agency burned through a lot of overtime to make sure the system was well-staffed.

“We had lots of people out there immediately reacting, which I don’t have every day to do,” he said.

Everyone was positioned throughout the Metrorail system to help visitors use the fare gates and communicate with riders.

But the outside help left after the inauguration, which left Metro to handle the Women’s March on Washington on its own. It was all-hands-on-deck for that event as well.

Which brings us back to the original question posed by the committee and WMATA chairman: How come this was all possible for one of the biggest ridership days in system history, and not for your typical Tuesday or Friday?

“We weren’t doing any preventive maintenance,” Wiedefeld told the committee. “You have to do preventive maintenance, but we suspended it.”

Wiedefeld called it a “normal day from the perspective of the operational things we go through — it was a fairly typical day.”

But it was the only thing they were doing, which the general manager cautioned can’t be done any other day.


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