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Paul Wiedefeld Takes Helm Of Metro, But Don't Expect Immediate Results

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The schedule to replace 1000- and 4000-series Metro cars is still 2-3 years, whoever sits in the GM seat.
Elvert Barnes: https://flic.kr/p/zyeRbr
The schedule to replace 1000- and 4000-series Metro cars is still 2-3 years, whoever sits in the GM seat.

Metro’s 13,000 employees officially have a new boss today.

It is the first day on the job for newly hired general manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who faces a plethora of problems and enormous expectations to help turnaround the region’s sprawling public transit authority.

But riders may have to be patient. The source of so many of the daily problems that delay commuters — old railcars — will take years to resolve, regardless who sits in the general manager’s office. Plans to replace the 1000- and 4000-series railcar models, the most unreliable in Metro’s fleet, are well behind schedule.

“The very oldest cars, the 1000-series, that should have been retired a decade ago, don't get better with age,” said Mort Downey, the chairman of Metro’s board who led the committee that hired Wiedefeld.

“Help is on the way from the Kawasaki production plant turning out the new 7000-series. But they can't some any faster than Kawasaki can build them and we can accept them,” he says.

The 7000-series are experiencing minor design problems and undergoing a software update, delaying their arrival from Kawasaki Rail Car Inc.’s Lincoln, Nebraska assembly line. Even without problems, the schedule to replace about 300 1000-series and 100 4000-series cars is two to three years.

Also, Metro is dealing with a maintenance backlog exacerbated by inefficient practices, according to investigators at the Federal Transit Administration. In June, the FTA detailed a list of maintenance-related issues in a comprehensive safety audit of rail and bus operations.

Among the findings: “Due to lack of track time, WMATA’s maintenance departments must consistently re-schedule work, and, as a result, have growing maintenance backlogs, dating back to 2012 and 2013." Also, “Documented maintenance procedures and standard operating procedures are not implemented as required.”

These and other problems are supposed to be rectified by the end of 2017 — meaning commuters should not expect major changes in weeks or months, despite seemingly endless weekend track work. Commuters’ complaints were confirmed in Metro’s most performance report card: targets for on-time performance, fleet reliability, and customer satisfaction were missed for both the rail and bus operations for a second consecutive quarter.

Metro also is in the process of fixing a problem concerning procurement rules that prevented the transit authority from acquiring new parts to fix broken railcars. Dozens are sitting in maintenance yards instead of carrying passengers.

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