- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2017

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said system officials will turn to reliability for passengers this year after devoting much of 2016 trying to rebuild a crumbling subway.

“There’s still major work to be done,” Mr. Wiedefeld, who took the helm of Metro just over a year ago, told the D.C. Council’s Finance and Revenue Committee in an oversight hearing on Thursday.

District lawmakers lauded Mr. Wiedefeld for making “hard decisions” to get the subway system back on track, but warned that there’s still a long road ahead.

“We are not anywhere near where we want to be, but we’re certainly a long way from where we were,” D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who serves as head of the committee as well as WMATA Board chairman, said at the hearing.

It’s been a long year for the beleaguered system, which saw stations crippled by mechanical fires, a train derailment and nearly two dozen inspectors fired for falsifying records. And a yearlong maintenance overhaul disrupted service at 11 different points in the system during the second half of the year.

With declining ridership, Mr. Wiedefeld said Metro must take on the issue that faces riders most directly: system reliability. While last year’s focus was to get the system back in good working order, this year Metro will try to improve the rider experience and — literally — get the trains to run on time.

WMATA statistics show that about 65 percent of delays are due to problems with the subway cars, so Metro is taking sweeping measures to rid the system of its poorest-performing cars.

The main culprit is the much-maligned 4000-series cars, which have been in service since 1991 and have suffered from a lack of maintenance over more than a quarter-century. The cars, which aren’t permitted to lead a train, have been plagued by problems with doors opening, failing brakes and other issues.

Mr. Wiedefeld announced this week that he hoped to retire all 100 of those troubled cars by the end of the year as part of a program deemed “Back to Good.”

“It’s the weakest link in the chain, basically,” Mr. Wiedefeld said. “If there is an issue, it brings down the whole train. The sooner we get these off of here, the sooner we can get the 7000-series on the system. That’s better for our customers.”

With those cars eliminated, Metro will end the year with about 500 new cars in service, more than double what it had at the end of last year.

“We all know how vital Metro is to our region, to our economy and to just getting around town,” Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, said at the hearing. “There are two things that are nonnegotiable: safety and reliability.”

Metro is also working through all of its vehicles to find the issues that drive failures and delays through both subway and bus routes. Mr. Wiedefeld said at the hearing that they’re about one-third of the way through the fleet.

And though the bulk of the yearlong systemwide overhaul called SafeTrack was done in 2016, this year will see service interruptions during the last four maintenance “surges,” which are scheduled to end in June.

Council member Robert White applauded Metro for making the decision to be willing to disrupt regular service in order to make the system safer.

“SafeTrack has greatly impacted residents, but the work has been necessary,” Mr. White, at-large Democrat, said Thursday. “There will be some frustrations and inconveniences, but we have to address these issues now.”

SafeTrack was just a start, Mr. Wiedefeld told the panel. The real work comes with maintaining the 117-mile system in the coming years. He said Metro will start a revamped preventative maintenance program in July. He’s hired third-party track inspectors and ordered training for every inspector left standing after 21 were fired for falsifying records.

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