Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Metro Inferno

Tuesday afternoon WMATA announced several steps which will be taken beginning immediately to address the power-related fire problems which caused the shut down of much of Washington's Metro Monday evening. This closure followed several hours of chaos for Metro customers on Sunday evening when stations on all five of Metro's lines were closed due to fires and smoke almost simultaneously.

Monday evening's incident caused the closure of the Columbia Heights and U Street-Cardozo Metro stations on the Green and Yellow Lines for an hour and a half beginning at approximately 7:20. Several minutes earlier, just after 7PM, power problems caused rail service to be suspended on the Blue Line between Rosslyn and Franconia-Springfield and on the Yellow Line between Huntington and L'Enfant Plaza. This outage resulted in the elimination of all Northern Virginia Metrorail services except for the Orange Line's Vienna Branch and stemmed ostensibly from complications resulting from Sunday's outages. A track fire was reported at the Pentagon Metro Station. Portions of the Blue and Yellow Lines in Arlington and Alexandria were closed for over three hours, however normal service resumed Tuesday morning.

Track Twenty-Nine is pleased to hear that Metro is taking immediate and long-term actions to resolve this situation. It is, however, unfortunate that it took a situation as dire as this to cause Metro to take the appropriate steps. According to the Washington Post, WMATA has blamed aging equipment as a primary factor in the chain of service outages on Sunday and Monday of this week. While it is understandable that the cash-strapped agency must scrimp and save wherever possible, it must not be at the expense of vital maintenance. Metro is an aging system and 31 years of continuous operation has taken its toll on the infrastructure which rushes Washingtonians across town.

As the rapid transit system of our nation's capital, Metro has long exemplified what successful transit looks like. Metro carries over 700,000 passengers daily through stations which are considered some of the most beautiful in all of America's transit systems. It is time that Metro set an example in terms of upkeep and emergency situation management. America is at a turning point. It is vital that this nation reorganize its priorities for urban development, especially when it comes to transportation and infrastructure. Some of our cities have rapid transit systems which are a century old. As Metro has shown, however, even our "modern" transit systems are beginning to age: San Francisco's BART turns 35 in September of this year and Atlanta's MARTA turned 28 in June. Regardless of the age or mode of the system, we cannot wait for a fatal disaster to act. Governments at all levels from the federal government down to local communities must take steps to reanalyze the course that America has charted based on the last five decades of public policy.

With peak oil approaching and with the realization of many that our current predominant form of development is unsustainable, all Americans have an obligation to work for change. It is time for a new vision for our cities which includes priority funding for the maintenance of our existing infrastructure. Track Twenty-Nine encourages WMATA to take the lead in this intiative as a part of any consideration for future service expansions.

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