MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today's show is all about rebirth and the renewal. We've already heard about the restoration of an iconic D.C. theater. And later on in the hour, we're going to meet an Anacostia woman whose art is all about taking the old and making it new again. First, though, we turn to the revival of our city's public transit system. That's the top of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Metro is in the midst of a massive capital improvement plan, tackling everything from rails, to lights to that not always crystal clear public address system. The goal is to make the commuting experience a bit smoother, even if the so-called improvements are causing big headaches for some riders right about now. Transportation reporter Martin Di Caro has more on the plan and on what rail and bus riders can expect to see in the weeks and months to come.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
At a public hearing in Tenleytown on a proposed fare increase, Metro riders watched a video publicizing the Transit Authority's massive rebuilding effort. Metro's general manager is heard saying what riders already know from firsthand experience.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
Armed with a five-year, $5 billion capital improvement budget, Metro is trying to end the days of broken escalators, run down buses and rickety rail cars in the largest rehab project in its history. And if you swipe your SmarTrip card every day, you're probably used to packed buses and dimly lit stations. But the one complaint that seems to trump all others, broken escalators.
MR. ROB TROOP
The challenges with the escalators is that we have a multitude of different types of vendors. We have a multitude of different types of manufacturers, some of which are not in existence anymore so parts are hard to come by.
That's Rob Troop, Metro's Head of Engineering. He promises that when all the work is done, you won't see the same escalators broken day after day. Escalators so old, you can hear them straining to climb, like this one.
Metro has started work on a plan to replace 94 escalators.
DuPont Circle is probably one of the most visible projects that we have going on. We've shut the entrance down to be able to expedite the instillation of those. That's a total replacement of those escalators.
Escalators, elevators, lighting, acoustic tiles, the P.A. system, air conditioning, bus signage, all of it is undergoing a makeover. More important, Metro has been replacing old buses and railcars with a modern fleet.
Now, I think people will begin to see a lot of improvements in the reliability of this system with the work that we're doing.
Metro is also fixing what's less obvious to your ears and eyes, 60 miles of new rail, new signals, track switches and thousands of cross ties. It's all being done to meet recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board. And it's the kind of work that causes, yes you hate it, service disruptions. But Troop says work crews are trying to disrupt you as little as possible.
We're trying to minimize the amount of closures, we're trying to minimize the amount of single tracking efforts that we have and we're maximizing our efforts while we do those things.
Even so, you can expect service disruptions on the redline, for instance, to continue three more years. As important as what's in Metro's Capital Improvements budget, $950 million next fiscal year alone, is what's not included. A Metro watchdog group says there's no major investment in expanding capacity.
MR. JACK CORBETT
They anticipated that by 2020, we'd need additional railcars beyond just replacing the cars that they've got in their capital plan. And in discussions between Metro and the contributing jurisdictions, they just dropped that out and decided they couldn't pay for that.
Attorney Jack Corbett is a director at Metroriders.org. He says 2020 may feel like a long ways off. but it's not.
(word?) taking Metro five years from when they decide to order new cars until the first car goes into revenue service, it's really time now for them to find the money for these additional railcars, so that they'll be available when they're really seriously needed.
Allen Greenberg sits on the policy committee at Metroriders.org. He says, when you considered the region's growing population, Metro cannot afford to miss this opportunity.
MR. ALLEN GREENBERG
As difficult as Metro's situation is, we've got to make it work. We don't have a choice.
The Transit Authorities purposing to increase fares five percent on average for rail riders and 10 cents for bus passengers who use SmarTrip. That's prompting mixed feedback from riders.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
They've got to fix these escalators.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1
I think it's difficult as a rider because you don't see a lot of the structural problems that Metro has.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2
I think in the process of getting better, we're sort of midway through the whole painful adjustment.
Just this month, a Metro board member revealed that the Transit Authority knew about failing brake parts, six years ago but canceled plans to replace them out of financial reasons. Head engineer, Jack Troop, says Metro never wants to be faced with such a situation again.
MR. JACK TROOP
You know, I like it, you know, they talk about painting the Gold Gate Bridge. You get to the one end, you have to go back and start over again.
An escalator may not be as iconic as the Gold Gate Bridge, but riders will be satisfied if Metro can keep them running. I'm Martin Di Caro.
We'd like to hear how Metro's efforts to spruce up the transit system are affecting your commute. You can send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us online at Facebook.com/metroconnection.org.
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