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Senate Committee Approves $150 Million In Federal Funds For Metro

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Metro will receive $150 million in federal funds, the fifth installment in a 10-year, $1.5 billion package.
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Metro will receive $150 million in federal funds, the fifth installment in a 10-year, $1.5 billion package.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority would receive another installment of federal funds to rebuild its aging rail system under an appropriations bill approved by a Senate panel on Thursday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., approved $150 million for WMATA, the fifth installment in a 10-year, $1.5 billion package to replace out-of-date equipment.

Mikulski said the recent anniversary of the 2009 Red Line crash in Fort Totten served as a reminder of the importance of fixing Metro.

"Our commitment then was to make sure we had a thorough investigation about what we needed to make sure that would never happen again, one of which was to replace these old railroad cars that crashed like a beer can on a hot Fourth of July," Mikulski said.

"We want trains that are crash proof. We needed a tracking system that would function automatically to warn people so there wouldn't be those crashes," she added.

The funding is part of fiscal 2014 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Metro applauded the Senate committee's vote.

"This is the fifth installment of $150 million, which is critical for the projects that you see us advancing every weekend, whether it is replacing outdated equipment or getting platforms rebuilt, escalators, elevators, improved lighting — all of that is funded from capital money," said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

Metro is entering the third year of a massive rebuilding effort that will continue to disrupt weekend rail service into 2017. Weekend track and station closures combined with the near daily malfunctions and delays caused by out-of-date rail cars and equipment are trying riders' patience. Metro's overall ridership dropped 3.6 percent through March largely because of a 4.9 percent drop in use of the rail system. The transit authority has blamed a number of factors for the drop off, including sequestration.

Stessel said it will take a lot more work to fix problems that accumulated over many years of deferred maintenance.

"This system didn't end up in this backlog overnight. It took about 10 years to get to the point where it was at in 2009," he said.

Rail riders can look forward to the arrival of new 7000 series rail cars that will begin to replace the decades-old 1000 series next year. Meantime, riders will have to deal with the usual breakdowns, although Stessel said reliability is improving.

"When you look at the categories of delays, the majority are railcar-related," said Stessel. "We've made improvements in railcars. We've made some software changes to the doors that have significantly improved their reliability, and we are seeing fewer offloads as a result of door malfunctions."

On the safety front, Metro fulfilled two more recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB issued the recommendations to WMATA after a January 2007 train derailment near the Mt. Vernon Square station and the fatal June 2009 Red Line crash in Fort Totten.

The train derailment led the NTSB to require Metro "ensure accurate wheel truing, including the regular alignment and indexing of cutting heads on wheel milling machines."

The recommendation connected to the 2009 Red Line crash asked Metro to "review the process by which Metrorail technical bulletins and other safety information are provided to employees and revise that process as necessary to ensure that (1) employees have received the information intended for them, (2) employees understand the actions to be taken in response to the information, and (3) employees take the appropriate actions," according to a letter from NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman to WMATA leadership.

Metro has now fulfilled 11 of 27 NTSB safety recommendations with eight more submitted for closure, Stessel said.

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