Plagued Washington, D.C., Metro System Announces Major Repairs
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Ahead of Washington, D.C.,'s subway system today prepared commuters and tourists alike for some big headaches this summer. That's when the Metro will begin a year-long repair effort. The system is the second busiest in the nation. Recent problems have disrupted service and highlighted long-standing safety defects. From member station WAMU, Martin Dicaro reports.
MARTIN DICARO, BYLINE: Faced with a system in decay, plagued by decades of deferred maintenance, Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld informed 700,000 daily riders it'll get worse before it recovers.
PAUL WIEDEFELD: This is a massive undertaking. There's no doubt about it.
DICARO: Starting next month through March 2017, 15 segments of Metro's six rail lines will either see reduced service or be shut down for days or weeks at a time.
WIEDEFELD: What that means is we will have impact of rush-hour service.
DICARO: Buses will replace trains, but Metro's encouraging commuters to consider finding other ways to get to their destinations if they can.
WIEDEFELD: We have customers that do not have an option, so we wanted to maintain service at a minimum. And if we have to shut down a station then basically we will have bus bridges around it so people can still make their trip by transit. Clearly the level of service will go down.
DICARO: And riders will get used to hearing announcements like this one.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Customers may encounter delays in both directions.
DICARO: When Wiedefeld took the job last fall, he inherited a struggling system. Ridership is down, public confidence at a low point. And when he realized sections of track were as old as Metro itself, he decided to compact years of rebuilding into months with a promise things will be better on the other side.
RACHEL MAISLER: I honestly - I think it's an embarrassment to our region.
DICARO: Rachel Maisler says she's glad she doesn't have to rely on Metro too often.
MAISLER: I'm going to ride my bike like I do most days. And on the days it rains, I'll probably try and work from home or take alternate transportation like Lyft or Uber.
DICARO: Andrew Kaplan, a federal worker says he doesn't have a better option, and he doesn't want to drive on Washington's notoriously congested highways.
ANDREW KAPLAN: Maybe they'll let me telework more.
DICARO: Even President Obama was asked about the trials of the D.C. Metro today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The broader issue, though, is we got bridges. We've got roads. We have ports. We have airports. We have water mains and pipes, as we saw in Flint, that suffer from neglect.
DICARO: It took many years for the neglect to finally catch up with Metro. Wiedefeld says restoring reliability and safety is the only way to win riders back.
WIEDEFELD: In my discussions across the region, you know, that's the desire - is they want the system back to where it is reliable, and they want to feel safe. And I think that will drive the numbers, so that is my focus.
DICARO: Metro is unveiling this massive repair plan just days after the National Transportation Safety Board determined poor maintenance contributed to an electrical malfunction that led to the death of a passenger last January. For NPR News, I'm Martin Dicaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.