Af­ter brief lull, Metro re­pairs will once again test pa­tience of rid­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - Dr. Grid­lock also ap­pears Thurs­day in Lo­cal Liv­ing. Com­ments and ques­tions are wel­come and may be used in a col­umn, along with the writer’s name and home com­mu­nity. Write Dr. Grid­lock at The Wash­ing­ton Post, 1301 K St. NW, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071, or email

This let­ter writer wanted to make a point about what he de­scribed as “mis­placed pres­sure to main­tain ser­vice over un­sexy main­te­nance con­cerns.” The thought is timely as Metro pre­pares for a re­sump­tion of SafeTrack main­te­nance projects. Dear Dr. Grid­lock: Or­ga­ni­za­tions can be se­duced or co­erced into a pop­u­lar­ity con­test to main­tain or ex­pand ser­vice, with pre­dictable but tragic re­sults. Just as there is no free lunch, there is no cheap and pain­less route to cor­rect the iden­ti­fied main­te­nance prob­lems.

Since it is un­likely that a fairy god­mother will whack the rails with her magic wand and solve the prob­lems for us, we must sup­port the main­te­nance work, and ac­cept the in­con­ve­niences.

— Richard Gar­ri­son, Ar­ling­ton

The con­di­tion that Gar­ri­son de­scribes can af­fect the rid­ers and the civic and busi­ness lead­ers who sup­port the tran­sit sys­tem, as well as the or­ga­ni­za­tion it­self.

A dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of Metro Gen­eral Man­ager Paul J. Wiede­feld is that he re­peated risks in­cur­ring dis­fa­vor by choos­ing “safety over ser­vice.”

In Jan­uary, Wiede­feld and the tran­sit staff ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing that hasn’t been around in a long time: wide­spread praise. Out-oftown­ers and lo­cals had good things to say about the ex­tra ser­vice that was there when they needed it for the in­au­gu­ra­tion and the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton.

Metro de­served that praise, but the warm glow is likely to fade quickly.

Rid­ers will be in the midst of their cool-down this week­end, as the tran­sit author­ity closes six sta­tions across cen­tral Wash­ing­ton for main­te­nance projects.

This is among the big­gest ser­vice dis­rup­tions since the week­end re­pair pro­gram in­ten­si­fied in 2011. So it would be a big deal any­time, but for many rid­ers it may turn out to mark an un­pleas­ant pivot from a short pe­riod when the track work pro­gram was rel­a­tively quiet into an in­ten­si­fied phase that will con­tinue for months.

The last SafeTrack project of 2016 ended Dec. 20. In the grand scheme, that wrapped up some of the most dis­rup­tive work in the year-long pro­gram. But that’s un­likely to im­press the rid­ers on the Blue, Yel­low, Green, Orange and Red lines who will be un­will­ing par­tic­i­pants in the upcoming projects that con­tinue into mid2017.

It’s es­pe­cially an­noy­ing for Blue Line rid­ers in North­ern Vir­ginia who are about to lose their con­nec­tion be­tween the Pen­tagon and Ross­lyn sta­tions for 18 days start­ing Satur­day, Feb. 11.

Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials will need to re-en­er­gize ef­forts to di­vert the dis­placed Metro com­muters from thoughts of driv­ing alone. While that’s help­ful in these tem­po­rary cir­cum­stances, the re­gion would be bet­ter off if those of­fi­cials could fo­cus on get­ting com­muters al­ready in their cars to try an al­ter­na­tive.

In the rail­road eu­pho­ria af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion and the Women’s March, I heard praise for SafeTrack and hopes that Metro had shown a sig­nif­i­cant gain in re­li­a­bil­ity.

SafeTrack wasn’t de­signed to fix all of Metro’s prob­lems, and it hasn’t. This re­al­ity will crawl its way back into the rid­ers’ con­scious­ness over the next few months.

That will make them es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to other upcoming events: The Metro board will de­bate fare in­creases and ser­vice cuts. There’s no good way out of that one. The board might fid­dle with its bud­get to re­duce the im­pact — it has be­fore — but no gov­ern­ment is go­ing to throw the Metro board a life­line on this one.

As the weather warms up, Wiede­feld’s ban on ex­tend­ing ser­vice hours for spe­cial events dur­ing the SafeTrack pro­gram will again grate on the peo­ple who par­tic­i­pate in those events and those who spon­sor them. Wiede­feld has men­tioned the pos­si­bil­ity of eas­ing the ban but hasn’t an­nounced a new rule. Mean­while, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, sched­uled for March 11, al­ready has mod­i­fied start times in light of Metro’s work plan.

The next blow falls at midyear, when Wiede­feld’s pre­ven­tive main­te­nance plan takes ef­fect, lock­ing in a ser­vice re­duc­tion of eight hours per week for two years.

De­spite my tale of woe about what’s ahead in 2017, I’m with Gar­ri­son. I sup­port the main­te­nance work — the SafeTrack re­pairs and the pre­ven­tive main­te­nance pro­gram that’s com­ing up — de­spite all the in­con­ve­niences that are bound to ac­com­pany them.

For years, we un­der­es­ti­mated how much work time and how much in­con­ve­nience would be nec­es­sary to re­store Metro, and our mis­cal­cu­la­tions led us into a deeper hole.

My hope is that de­ci­sion­mak­ers and rid­ers will re­al­ize that we’re not look­ing over the rim yet. We’re still crawl­ing our way up the sides of that hole.

MIKE COP­POLA/GETTY IMAGES

A po­lice of­fi­cer di­rects pro­test­ers to­ward a Metro sta­tion Jan. 21 dur­ing the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton. Out-of-town­ers and lo­cals had good things to say about the ex­tra ser­vice for the march and the in­au­gu­ra­tion, but the warm glow of praise is likely to fade quickly.

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