Man­ager Seeks $150 Mil­lion for Ur­gent Re­pairs

The Washington Post - - The Region - By Lena H. Sun Staff writer Amy Gard­ner con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Metro has $150 mil­lion in cap­i­tal projects that need to be funded im­me­di­ately to main­tain safe and re­li­able op­er­a­tion of the rail sys­tem, in­clud­ing a power sys­tem up­grade and re­pairs to track equip­ment and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sta­tion plat­forms, Gen­eral Man­ager John B. Ca­toe Jr. said yes­ter­day.

“We’ve put to­gether an ‘im­me­di­ate needs list’ of things that we need to do right now,” he said. The list in­cludes buy­ing trans­form­ers for power sub­sta­tions to sup­ply the elec­tric­ity re­quired to run more eight-car trains; $20 mil­lion to re­place 120,000 worn metal fas­ten­ers that help keep tracks se­cure; and funds to re­pair con­crete un­der eight out­door sta­tion plat­forms.

Metro doesn’t have the money for th­ese projects, Ca­toe said dur­ing a meet­ing with re­porters to mark his oneyear an­niver­sary as man­ager. The tran­sit agency plans to present its short- and long-term cap­i­tal needs to the Metro board next month and to re­view op­tions for fund­ing them, such as bor­row­ing money.

Ca­toe plans to present the tran­sit agency’s 10-year cap­i­tal pro­gram, which be­gins in 2010, to the board in the spring. He es­ti­mates it will ex­ceed $3 bil­lion.

Metro’s cap­i­tal and re­pair needs were cited by fed­eral of­fi­cials last week when they said the pro­posed Metro­rail ex­ten­sion to Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port would not qual­ify for fed­eral funds. Metro is the only ma­jor tran­sit agency that does not have a re­li­able stream of fund­ing on which to base cap­i­tal plan­ning.

Ca­toe said he and Metro of­fi­cials have been reg­u­larly up­dat­ing fed­eral of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing a ses­sion two weeks ago with Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tor James S. Simp­son. Asked about a re­port pub­lished in the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner quot­ing Simp­son as say­ing that Metro has $7 bil­lion in un­funded needs, Ca­toe said yes­ter­day, “I don’t know where that num­ber came from.”

FTA of­fi­cials yes­ter­day said there was a mis­un­der­stand­ing be­tween Simp­son and the Ex­am­iner.

De­spite the FTA’s com­ments us­ing Metro’s fund­ing needs to ques­tion the vi­a­bil­ity of the project, Ca­toe backed the rail ex­ten­sion project. The Metro board voted last year to take con­trol of the line af­ter it was built, and Metro has the fi­nan­cial and op­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity to run it, he said. The first full year of op­er­a­tion of the ex­ten­sion’s first phase would in­crease Metro’s to­tal op­er­at­ing and main­te­nance costs by about 3 per­cent, he said.

On Fri­day, Simp­son men­tioned a let­ter that was sent to the Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton Air­ports Author­ity by a Metro em­ployee that raised con­cerns about the author­ity’s man­age­ment of the project. The let­ter, Simp­son said, high­lights di­vi­sions and dis­cord within the con­sor­tium of agen­cies be­hind the project. Sev­eral project sup­port­ers, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions, said that the let­ter was a typ­i­cal mid-level com­mu­ni­ca­tion and that the FTA is blow­ing its sig­nif­i­cance out of pro­por­tion.

Yes­ter­day, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) said he wrote a let­ter to U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Mary Peters say­ing that he had asked Vir­ginia of­fi­cials to bring in out­side trans­porta­tion ex­perts to ad­dress the FTA’s con­cerns about Dulles.

As for Metro’s press­ing needs, one of the most ur­gent is up­grad­ing its elec­tric sub­sta­tions, also known as trac­tion power sub­sta­tions. The sub­sta­tions con­vert en­ergy from util­ity com­pa­nies into 750-volt di­rect cur­rent to op­er­ate the trains.

For Metro to meet its goal of run­ning more eight-car trains dur­ing rush hour by the spring of 2009, the agency needs to re­place trans­form­ers at many sub­sta­tions. The longer trains draw 33 per­cent to 50 per­cent more power than six-car or four-car trains. Failed trans­form­ers and a lack of spares were a cause of power fail­ures in Au­gust that vir­tu­ally crip­pled the sub­way sys­tem for two days.

Ca­toe said he wants to fo­cus on im­prov­ing safety and re­li­a­bil­ity dur­ing his sec­ond year. He ar­rived at Metro af­ter three em­ploy­ees were killed by Metro trains. There had also been a de­rail­ment as well as pedes­trian ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing buses.

Metro has re­trained bus op­er­a­tors and put in place an author­ity-wide safety im­prove­ment pro­gram in an ef­fort to re­duce ac­ci­dents and in­juries by half within five years.

To im­prove train re­li­a­bil­ity, of­fi­cials have re­duced the num­ber of de­bris fires and me­chan­i­cal break­downs through more thor­ough clean­ing. The agency also is try­ing to re­pair on­go­ing door prob­lems with one se­ries of rail cars and iden­tify what is caus­ing brakes to lock up on its old­est se­ries of rail cars.

Ca­toe also said Metro­rail rid­er­ship is up slightly since the largest fare in­creases in agency his­tory went into ef­fect Jan. 6. Rail rid­er­ship is up by 1 per­cent over­all and 2.6 per­cent on week­days, ac­cord­ing to Metro staff, but of­fi­cials said it was too early to know whether the in­crease was sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.


Crum­bling con­crete at out­door sta­tions is one of Metro’s many pri­or­i­ties, Gen­eral Man­ager John B. Ca­toe Jr. said.

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