- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Metro Chief Executive Officer Richard A. White said yesterday that the financially strapped transportation system recently received some additional money, but it almost came too late, and that riders should be prepared for more breakdowns like those that happened this week on the Red Line.

“It’s going to be a grind,” said Mr. White, the agency’s general manager. “We almost waited too long. Now we have to manage to hang on. We have to work smart, be more creative and more anticipatory.”

Mr. White’s comments came one day after Metro’s most recent service problem.

Commuters were delayed Monday morning after crews conducting late-night inspections found hairline fractures in rails, which limited Red Line service to one track until about 7:30 a.m. between the Van Ness-UDC and Medical Center stations.

Mr. White said officials are looking into the cause of the cracks, including the possibility that the wheels of the 5000-series rail cars — built by Construcciones Y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles of Madrid and used by Metro since 2000 — do not fit the rails.

The delays on Monday are the most recent Metro problems, which include the Nov. 3 Red Line accident in which one train rolled backward into another, injuring 20 riders at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro station and slowing service for days. The findings of the accident investigation are pending. The Red Line is the most used line of the Metrorail system.

• On Oct. 31, mechanical breakdowns and signal problems on the Blue and Yellow lines caused delays of up to 40 minutes during the Marine Corps Marathon. Several passengers waiting on the platforms fainted from heat exhaustion.

• On Oct. 22, a 54-inch horizontal crack in a Red Line rail closed the Judiciary Square station for about 40 minutes during the morning rush hour.

• On Oct. 20, a Metro worker at the agency’s downtown headquarters ignored alarms that fire sprinklers had been set off in the Mount Vernon Square/Convention Center station. The station was closed for more than two hours to morning commuters as workers mopped up ankle-deep water.

• On Oct. 10, after a Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field in Landover, train controllers ran just one train an hour on several lines, causing thousands of football fans to sit through long delays on idle trains.

Mr. White wouldn’t speculate on whether riders have seen the worst, but said service would improve.

“It’s going to be two to three years” before riders begin to see results from the recently allotted capital funding, he said. “It’s been a tough year, but I’m confident that we’ll have a better year next year.”

Mr. White, who became Metro’s general manager and CEO in August 1996, oversees system operation, employees, a $1 billion annual operating budget and a $3.3 billion capital-improvement program.

The capital-improvement program — approved by Metro’s budget committee in October — is a six-year commitment from state and local governments in the region and will help pay for Metro’s short-term capital needs.

Some of the short-term needs include improving on such basic infrastructure as fixing leaking tunnels, upgrading power and communications systems, purchasing 120 new rail cars and buying 185 more buses.

Those needs also include critical security enhancements, which will require additional federal funding to implement.

Mr. White said in April, before the funding was in place, that the system would become a “death spiral” and that overcrowding and incidents will occur with more regularity without proper funding.

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