- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Metro Chairman Richard A. White yesterday defended the rail system's performance after the Presidents Day weekend snowstorm, blaming residents for high expectations and the local media for blowing the transit system's problems out of proportion.
Metro riders complained of overloaded trains and long waits after the storm delivered 16 to 28 inches on the metropolitan region.
"People think of us as a subway system, and that we must be immune to snow," Mr. White told The Washington Times in an interview yesterday at a national public transportation conference downtown.
"All of our rail yards are above ground and exposed, and all our fleet is exposed to conditions," he said.
"Metro's decision to run trains on Feb. 16 while snow was falling hurt our ability to service riders the rest of the week," Mr. White said . About a fourth of Metro's 832 train cars are not properly insulated against snow, and when some of these trains ran in the snow, they were damaged by snow that was sucked into their motors.
Metro's problems were "not nearly as significant as the news would have led the average citizen to surmise," Mr. White said.
"It wasn't like we failed miserably or fell on our face. It was just basically a set of environmental conditions that blew past our capabilities," he said.
In the storm's wake, as the region tried to get back to work and normal life, Metro train service operated at about 60 percent to 70 percent below full capacity for much of the week after the storm.
At many stations in and around the city, for days following the storm, passengers stood on packed platforms waiting for trains, which ran every 12 to 15 minutes instead of the normal three to five minutes. Some passengers waited for as long as an hour, and the wait forced some to abandon their efforts altogether and find others means of transportation.
"We really didn't do a good job of trying to better educate people about what 22 inches of snow does to a transit system," he said.
A fourth of the system's fleet needs to be retrofitted with proper insulation, but when it comes to paying for it, Metro is having a hard time finding money from local governments to pay for those kind of repairs.
"We are absolutely suffering from lack of adequate investment," Mr. White said.
Metro is $275 million short of the $1.3 billion it needs over six years to pay for its Infrastructure Renewal Program, including repairs. Metro has no funds to put towards its capacity enhancement program, which will cost $625 million for rail improvements and $125 million for bus system improvements.
"We haven't adequately invested in our rail system," Mr. White said.
The upcoming fare increases, scheduled for June, have yet to be approved, but will help Metro pay for some of these items under the Capital Improvement Program. Mr. White said Metro's board hopes to present the proposed fare boosts to local and state governments by April 10 for final approval.

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