Incidents resulting from insulator fires also dropped nearly 80% during the same period, from 39...

Incidents resulting from insulator fires also dropped nearly 80% during the same period, from 39 in FY2018 to just five in FY2021.

Larry Levine

Metrorail provides more reliable service and fewer train delays three years after the National Capital Region provided capital funding to address a backlog of safety and reliability improvements, according to a new report released by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

The report marks the halfway point of its six-year capital program. This has been a coordinated effort to rehabilitate infrastructure and systems while establishing an annual program of preventive track maintenance. 

“In 2018, the Commonwealth led the way with bipartisan legislation to provide dedicated capital funding for WMATA, a vital economic driver for Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. “Virginia is proud to continue to partner with Maryland and the District of Columbia to make this critical investment in infrastructure while ensuring safe, reliable, and equitable access to jobs, education, and healthcare across our region. The mobility of our workforce is critical to our economy and is a key reason WMATA will continue to play an integral role in our region’s economic growth.” 

The agency’s preventive maintenance program has cut the number of emergency track repairs in half since the 2018 fiscal year. Once a leading cause of smoke and fire incidents, not a single traction power cable fire was recorded last fiscal year (FY2021).

Incidents resulting from insulator fires also dropped nearly 80% during the same period, from 39 in FY2018 to just five in FY2021.

“I am proud to have been an early champion of dedicated funding for Metro and applaud Metro for delivering safety and infrastructure improvements to benefit Marylanders and residents across the region,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. “I continue to call on our federal government to become full partners in providing dedicated funding to WMATA.”

According to the report, all 48 underground stations have received major lighting upgrades, making them up to ten times brighter while reducing energy consumption by about 60%.

Escalators are now available 95% of the time, following completion of WMATA’s previous escalator rehabilitation and replacement program in late 2019; work is now underway to replace another 130 escalators over the next seven years. 

“A safe and reliable public transit system is of utmost importance not only to our residents and visitors but to our entire regional economy,” said District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser. “WMATA serves as a linchpin to federal government operations, the private sector, and beyond. As we look ahead into building back better and stronger than ever, it is vital that we continue to invest in transportation networks that lead the path forward for all.”

The Platform Improvement Project has rebuilt 17 of 20 outdoor station platforms scheduled for critical repairs, improving safety and accessibility while adding customer experience improvements like new Passenger Information Displays (PIDS). 

“Our customers can’t always see the investments being made in infrastructure and support systems, but they can notice a difference in the safety and reliability of Metrorail service” said Metro board chair Paul C. Smedberg. “While there is more work to be done, the customer experience has improved significantly since the days of SafeTrack.”

WMATA’s report notes that customers should expect more work ahead in parts of the system that still need attention, including: new fare gates in rail stations and new fare boxes on buses through the Fare System Modernization program; rehabilitation of the steel-lined tunnel and bridge on the Yellow Line between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations, starting in 2022; and implementation of projects where pilots are successful, including tunnel waterproofing and tunnel ventilation improvements

“We are only halfway through the six-year capital program, but the region’s investment is paying dividends to our customers who are getting better service,” said Metro general manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld. “Riders who are returning for the first time since the pandemic will see a more reliable train service than we’ve offered in years.” 

The U.S. Senate’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as the Invest Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, both contain provisions to reauthorize capital funding for WMATA safety and reliability improvements.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008, expired after 10 years, and funding has since been appropriated as part of the federal budget process. The new language would authorize Congress to continue funding the program at $150 million annually through federal fiscal year 2030. 

WMATA’s board is also prioritizing major capital needs and potential future investments, including a commitment earlier this summer to convert to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2045, with a full transition to electric or other zero-emission bus purchases by 2030.

Additional priorities currently in the planning phase include capacity enhancements for the blue, orange, and silver lines, as well as station access and passenger circulation improvements.