- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

Under fire by federal regulators, Metro has updated and sped up the schedule for its “SafeTrack” maintenance plan, which now includes midday repairs and a month of delays on the Silver and Orange lines.

Beginning June 4, subway riders on all lines can expect longer waits on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Maintenance work will delay passengers almost 20 minutes on the Silver Line and between Vienna and Ballston on the Orange Line.

The rail work constitutes the first of 15 “safety surges” that will take place next year. In addition to the surges, Metrorail will be closed every day at midnight — including weekends, when service usually runs until 3 a.m. Selected track work will begin weekdays at 8 p.m., forcing some lines to single-track just as rush hour traffic winds down.

For the second surge, entire segments of the Orange and Blue lines will be closed for just over two weeks, starting June 18. Free shuttle buses will transport people from Minnesota Avenue to Eastern Market. Reduced service will continue to slow down the Orange, Silver and Blue lines.

The plan’s final version comes just two weeks before the start date — and after a long series of smoke-and-fire incidents that have shut down service and caused serious delays.

The worst of those happened in January 2015, when one woman was killed and more than 80 others were sickened in a smoke-filled tunnel at L’Enfant Plaza station.

In March Metro closed the entire train system for 29 hours to inspect 600 third-rail power cables. The inspection did not solve Metro’s problems: In the last month, there have been at least 10 major smoke, fire and arcing insulator incidents on the rails.

Metro responded to growing concern from riders and pressure from federal regulators by releasing its first draft of SafeTrack at the beginning of May.

But the Federal Transit Administration said the plan was insufficient, and warned that it could defund and even close Metro if a number of safety directives were not addressed immediately.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the current state of the Metro system “serious business” and said the federal regulators would “not be afraid” to shut it down.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld jumped to the transit system’s defense, telling WTOP radio last week that he would follow the federal regulations while adding that firing employees is “always an option.”

“You always want to start where you’re trying to bring people along to bring them to where you want to be,” Mr. Wiedefeld said. “But clearly, if someone cannot perform at that level, it’s probably best for both of us to move along.”

The announcement of the new SafeTrack plan is also part of the general manager’s solution to Metro’s dilemma. Mr. Wiedefeld has yet to reveal how the repairs will be funded, however.

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