- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

Metro officials criticized for the agency’s poor performance during past snowstorms said yesterday that their trains will be equipped this year with better snow-fighting equipment that will help them restore service quickly.

The transit agency plans to equip its front train cars with de-icing units that would spray the third rail providing the 750 volts of electric power for the trains’ engines, officials said. That means passenger trains will get rid of electricity-blocking ice during daily service.

Twenty six-car trains will have the de-icing units. Those trains also will be equipped with ice scrapers.

“These de-icing units can be manually operated,” said Steve Feil, Metro’s chief operating officer for rail, as he pressed the buttons on a remote control near a fifth-row passenger seat.

The de-icing units will take up two rows and the door area — enough space to accommodate 16 passengers. Riders concerned about sitting near the units will be able to move to another car on the train.

Similar de-icing equipment is used by transit officials in Chicago and Toronto.

In the past, diesel-powered, nonpassenger trains, known as “prime movers,” cleared the tracks late at night, which delayed the return of normal passenger service. The prime movers will be used less frequently.

Officials said such improvements to the above-ground tracks should keep trains running on time and reduce chances of trains stalling or slowing because of lack of power.

“We plan to stay way on top of it and treat the system ahead of time,” said Mr. Feil, who formerly worked for the New York City subway system. Mr. Feil joined Metro in June.

The agency’s rail-car maintenance staff has “hardened” the undercarriages of an additional 200 cars to better protect the motors from short circuits caused by snow and water. Five-hundred cars are now available for snow- and ice-fighting.

Crews also have replaced 8,000 feet of heater tape to keep ice off the third rail.

“I’d much rather deal with snow than with ice,” said William J. Paulus, general superintendent of rail-car maintenance. “Two or three inches of snow doesn’t bother us.”

Snow deeper than 8 inches has caused the most problems. Blizzards in 1996 and 2003 caused extensive rail-car damage and hours-long service delays.

At one point in February 2003, about 40 percent of the rail cars were either snowbound in yards or broken.

Officials said yesterday that snow of 8 inches or more will remain a problem. If that happens, Metro plans to run only underground trains at 30-minute intervals as crews clear the above-ground rails.

The following Metro lines will operate during snow emergencies:

• Red Line, between Medical Center and Union Station.

• Orange Line, between Ballston-MU and Stadium-Armory.

• Green Line, between Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Congress Heights.

• Yellow Line, between Pentagon and Crystal City.

• Blue Line, between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory, paralleling a portion of the Orange Line.

Operating the underground trains will allow the agency to resume normal service more quickly, officials said.

Other snow- and ice-fighting steps will include increasing frequency of train runs during nonpeak hours and at night to keep tracks clear of snow accumulation.

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