DC Metro considering permanent service cuts

DC Metro considering permanent service cuts
© Greg Nash

Washington’s Metrorail system is weighing permanent cuts to late-night and weekend service to keep up with long-term maintenance and repairs.

The Board of Directors agreed on Thursday to send proposals for service changes to public hearings in October, with the board expected to make a final decision at the end of the year. Any approved changes would begin next July.

The first option would keep weekdays hours the same — currently 5 a.m. to midnight — but close down the subway at midnight on Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. on Sunday.

Under the second proposal, weekday and Sunday service would both end at 11:30 p.m., while Friday and Saturday would end at midnight.

The third scenario would open the system on Sundays an hour later, at 8 a.m., and close at 11 p.m., while weekdays would end at 11:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday service would end at 1 a.m.

The final option would keep weekdays the same and allow Friday and Saturday to close at 3 a.m., but wouldn’t open on Saturday until 9 a.m. and Sunday until noon, then closing at 11 p.m.

General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said adjusting the operating hours would give workers 20 percent more track access, or an extra eight hours per week.

The expanded maintenance window would allow the agency to conduct critical safety upkeep and inspection work, maximize productivity and provide flexibility to address high-priority issues, Wiedefeld said.

Metro has been dogged by a string of safety issues and is now implementing a massive repair plan that crams three years’ worth of deferred maintenance into one year. During the project, Metro already opted to end weekend service at midnight instead of 3 a.m.

A safety directive from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) earlier this year concluded that increased demand for service during late nights and weekends shrunk the window to conduct necessary maintenance.

“Lack of track access has left [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s] maintenance managers struggling to prioritize the most significant and safety critical repairs for completion, while deferring and rescheduling other work,” the FTA directive said.

Board member Leif A. Dormsjo said he wasn’t sold that “eight hours is the magic number,” and questioned why other peer transit agencies are able to keep up with maintenance during smaller windows.

He also said it was still unclear whether the purpose of the extra hours was to conduct routine maintenance, like clearing drains, or to do more labor-intensive work, like major infrastructure repairs.

Dormsjo raised concern that workers wouldn’t be efficient if they were given an expanded maintenance window.

“Are we going to be locking in inefficiencies by giving the management team and crews this liberal period of time to work on the track, as opposed to focusing on getting people in and out of the work areas swiftly and safely?

Wiedefeld responded that it’s not an “either/or” situation and said the current windows are too small for "the scale of what we have in front of us.”