Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Fifteen percent of D.C. Metro workers say they don't feel comfortable reporting safety problems. That's one of the findings from a survey of Metro workers that is part of the transit agency's efforts to change the safety culture and prevent accidents like the deadly 2009 Red Line crash.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and oil man turned natural gas booster T. Boone Pickens introduced a new kind of food truck Thursday — one that they say is more environmentally friendly than the gas-guzzlers that choke city streets.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
(Washington, D.C.) The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says miscommunication among emergency responders contributed to the January 30th fiasco on Metro's Green Line that left hundreds of passengers stranded on dark, overheated trains, while others 'self-evacuated' into tunnels.
A formal report on the incident was presented at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday, and it recounts what happens when two packed Green Line trains heading outbound toward the Anacostia station in Southeast D.C. shortly before 4:30 p.m. ran into a problem. A malfunctioning electrical insulator was smoking, so the trains had to be single-tracked around it -- a fairly routine procedure. But what happened next was not.
“Due to a miscommunication between Metro transit police officials and their liaison in the rail control center, police on the platform at Anacostia were unaware of the planned train route, and when they saw the train lights coming in on Track 2 believed there was an immediate life safety threat to the track personnel repairing the insulator,” said Dave Kubicek, Metro’s deputy general manager of operations. He presented a report, entitled "Green Line Incident, Anacostia," (pdf) at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday.
So police shut down the power to the third rail -- causing the two rush hour trains to stop in the tunnel, the first not far from the Anacostia platform. A short time later, Metro was ready to turn the power back on. Except: “They received reports of self-evacuations and determined it was no longer safe to restore power or move the trains,” Kubicek said.
Metro’s report says the last of the stranded passengers were de-boarded at Anacostia an hour and 20 minutes after power was lost -- but not before experiencing hellish conditions. "Several medical emergencies were reported to the operator via the intercom, mostly
related to heat and stress. However, one passenger had a seizure and the operator rendered aid to her," reads a section of the report.
The investigation found that the agency’s response to the trains “was faster than in prior incidents and improvements were evident in several key areas of emergency response.” Some Metro board members said the most dangerous aspect of this episode was the decisions by passengers on both stranded trains to escape and walk down the tunnels against the wishes of the train operators. On the train further from the platform, the report says “one passenger challenged the operator by demanding information about when power would be restored. Against the operator’s urging, this passenger and others began self-evacuating.”
Metro also reviewed its attempts to communicate with stranded passengers during the incident and found many passengers were frustrated with incomplete information. While Metro staff sent out 79 service update Tweets, and one of the train operators was commended, the report also found "Metro officials on the scene who failed to make their presence known to customers throughout the train (and) made inadequate announcements to share information with passengers."
The incident forced Metro’s General Manager to issue an apology to customers via email. Among the investigation’s recommendations is to reinforce proper procedures for transit police after the activation of an Emergency Trip Station, which can shut down third rail power in the area of a mechanical problem.
Read the report here.
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro
Thursday, January 24, 2013
(Armando Trull -- Washington, D.C., WAMU) Metro transit agency officials are proposing new tunnels to help the system keep up with growing demand. The tunnels are included in a 49-page strategic plan (pdf) presented Thursday to the transit agency's board of directors.
Metro's immediate goals call for measures to improve the existing infrastructure, including adding powering capacity to allow for more eight-car trains and building new pedestrian connections between certain stations.
More ambitiously, Metro says the plans also include the possibility of new tunnels in the core of the system to separate lines that currently share tunnels. It also calls for building express tracks along the Silver and Orange lines in Virginia, as well expanding current lines.
Metro management says an additional $740 million a year would allow the transit agency to take these kind of measures to prepare for growth of the system, and challenged the region's leaders to develop a funding strategy.
The District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government contribute to Metro's operating and capital budgets, which total $2.5 billion.
Monday, December 31, 2012
(Patrick Madden, WAMU) D.C. Police have identified an alleged bank robber who tried to use the Metro as his getaway vehicle.
The Metropolitan Police Department says officers arrested 57-year-old Scott Lee Feuer of southeast Washington D.C. in connection with the robbery Friday.
Police say the robbery happened at a Wells Fargo bank on K Street at about 10 a.m. Friday. Police asked Metro Transit Police to hold trains at the Dupont Circle stop after the suspect fled in that direction and authorities were able to arrest Feuer on a train bound for Silver Spring.
Police say detectives are investigating whether the suspect may have been involved in other crimes.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The ominous forecasts of what Sandy might do has Metro officials feeling fortunate for the relative ease with which they will be able to reopen.
"Given the magnitude of the storm, the potential for high winds, the potential for flooding conditions, we view ourselves as very lucky," says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.
The lack of widespread commercial power outages helped, too. Overall, there was minimal damage to the rail lines.
"Construction fencing blowing onto tracks.We had some water infiltration in several stations, we had water pooling in elevator and escalator maintenance rooms underneath the units," says Stessel. "But nothing that would prevent us from re-opening."
Rail and bus will operate on Sunday service levels starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
"It may take up to 30 minutes for trains to filter through the system so you want to give it a little bit of time from two o'clock," says Stessel.
MetroAccess service remains cancelled and is expected to be restored tomorrow, along with full service for bus and rail.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Dennis Martire and the agency he worked for would be paid little attention – if not for the responsibility running one of the largest public transportation projects in the country: the Silver Line Metro rail to Dulles International Airport.
Wednesday morning Martire officially resigned from his position as a member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) after months of criticism directed from high places at both his professional behavior and the conduct of the airports authority itself.
In his first interview since settling a costly legal dispute with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's administration and agreeing to resign, Martire -- a high-ranking official with the labor union LiUNA -- defended the agency’s record and denied any wrongdoing.
‘We have a policy that allows us to go to airport conferences. It’s not like we pull out a globe, spin it, and say 'we’re going here today,'” Martire said.
A Washington Post editorial in May accused Martire of spending more than “$38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011,” including a nine-day trip to attend a 36-hour conference in Sardinia.
“It was a three-day trip [the editorial board] made into a nine-day trip. The conference was only three days. I flew from there to somewhere else on my dime, not on MWAA’s dime,” he said.
In August, the federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent MWAA a letter expressing outrage at “ongoing reports describing questionable dealings including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members.” MWAA (pronounced "em-wah") has publicized reforms of its spending, travel, and contracting practices, but Martire believes the board of directors and the agency’s leadership allowed their opponents to turn such issues into a distraction from MWAA’s stewardship of the Silver Line.
“The airports authority has handled this project remarkably well,” said Martire, who said a project labor agreement (PLA) -- a pro-union provision voluntarily undertaken by the prime contractor in the Silver Line’s Phase 1 construction -- kept the project on-time, on-budget, and with a strong record of worker safety.
“Compared to other major infrastructure projects in northern Virginia like the Springfield interchange or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, it’s a model project. Those projects were all hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The taxpayer is the one who has to eat that money,” he said.
Martire said “it’s a disgrace” that the state of Virginia has provided only $150 million dollars for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which has an estimated price tag of $3 billion, and he urged the federal government to provide additional funding to bring down the projected toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road. Under the current financing arrangement, those tolls will cover 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs. A full, round-trip toll would rise to $9 in 2015 under current MWAA projections.
“You’re going to have rail to Dulles and beyond, but the tolls are still my major concern. This could be a boondoggle if it’s built out there with $10 tolls,” Martire said.
Martire also shrugged off criticism for supporting the use of a non-voluntary PLA in planning process for Phase 2, accusing its critics of opposing organized labor.
“I do work for a labor union,” Martire said. “There’s no doubt that the governor of Virginia and Congressman [Frank] Wolf, both Republicans, do not like labor. They don’t like what labor stands for.”
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The Fairfax Board of Supervisors has given final approval to a massive transportation funding plan for the future Tysons Corner.
The Tysons Plan looks 40 years into the future, anticipating 113 million square feet of new development by 2050 in a modern city rising west of Washington. The board on Tuesday approved $2.3 billion to build a new transportation network for the future Tysons Corner, which includes a grid designed for buses, pedestrians, and cars -- as well as four new Metro Stations. It will be paid for in part by commercial and residential taxes.
Fairfax County Board chairman Sharon Bulova heralded the move, calling it "a major step in the right direction" for the area. “Investing in Tysons is an investment in the future of Fairfax County," she said. "Never before has such a long range, comprehensive plan been developed to support a major redevelopment initiative."
But the vision of high-rise condos and gleaming corporate offices doesn't mean much to Lucille Weiner, a senior citizen who lives in a condo in Tysons and who spoke at a public hearing Tuesday before the board approved the plan. She said the tax increases on residential properties in Tysons Corner would make her life more difficult.
"As I read the reasoning around taxing the neighborhood that is Tysons Corner, I read the phrase 'the folks that will benefit the most,'" said Weiner. "It sure isn't me who will have to move if this happens. I appeal to my elected representatives to help stop this frivolous idea on the extra tax on the people who live in Tysons."
Michael Bogasky, the president of the residents association in Weiner's condominium, agreed with that assessment. "Let's create a new tax district so that we can pay more in taxes than anyone else in Fairfax County," he said.
Weiner believes the new taxes should not be on homeowners at all.
"When the Metro reached Greenbelt [Maryland], residents of Greenbelt did not get taxed, nor did residents of Vienna [Virginia]. when the Metro reached Vienna," she said.
Developers stand to gain the most from Tysons' future growth. One of them, CityLine Developers, supports the tax plan.
"If I ever thought there was a day that I would come and ask you to approve $13 a square foot in transportation proffers and ask you for a 7- to 9- cent tax on top of that, I probably should have retired," said Thomas Fleury a CityLine vice president, with a laugh. "That's what it takes to get the job done."
Other critics argue there is a risk to predicting tax revenues over 40 years and if the county's projections don't work out, the plan will fall apart.
But lawmakers say the plan is flexible enough to adjust to swings in the economy and the real estate market.
Monday, October 15, 2012
DC's transit agency is circulating proposed designs for a commemorative fare card that will be sold for the presidential inauguration.
According to a WMATA spokeswoman, the agency will print 100,000 of these $15 cards, which would come pre-loaded with a one-day rail pass. (Functional and collectible!)
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
This is the second part in a series of ongoing reports about the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region’s changing neighborhoods. Listen to the radio version of this story here. The first part highlighted Southeast D.C.'s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood.
Columbia Pike stretches three and a half miles through the center of densely populated Arlington County, Virginia just west of D.C. The corridor, extends southwest of Arlington National Cemetery, into an evolving landscape of mixed-use development that builders and community activists alike are hoping to improve into more livable communities. But unlike the nearby Rosslyn-Ballston corridor that was built up around Metro rail, the Columbia Pike has no rail link to attract real estate development. The future does hold plans for a streetcar.
“We’re working toward implementing light rail in the form of the Columbia Pike Streetcar which will connect the density at the west end in Fairfax to Pentagon City and Crystal City in the east end,” said Chris Zimmerman, an Arlington County Board member who has been heavily involved in the county’s transit-oriented planning. He said the county just submitted its application to the Federal Transit Administration for streetcar grant dollars.
The future path of a light rail line is currently used by the busiest bus service in the Commonwealth of Virginia at roughly 15,000 daily riders. While residents have access to transit – a key requirement to be considered a thriving WalkUP in a study by George Washington University professor Chris Leinberger – Columbia Pike’s population is missing some important elements. For one, the corridor needs more people.
“We need more density. Density is sometimes viewed by people as the antithesis of what you want in development, but what density has proven to do in Arlington is create places where you can move around easier,” said David DeCamp, a real estate developer, who accompanied a WAMU reporter on a tour of the pike along with John Murphy, the vice president of the board of directors of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.
The corridor also lacks commercial development.
“Mixed-use has three components: residential, office, and commercial," Murphy said. "The pike sorely misses office right now.”
A streetcar line will not be a cure-all, so county planners implemented two other measures to spur development along Columbia Pike: zoning laws were changed to make development easier, and the housing overlay zone was altered to double the unit density. Landowners will be required to maintain roughly one-fourth of their new apartment units as affordable housing; the county will build a streetcar line so their tenants can move easily up and down the corridor.
The combination of maintaining some affordable housing and expanding access to transit will allow the pike to avoid some of the negative consequences of gentrification, namely population displacement, Zimmerman said.
“Our goal is to make it possible for everyone who lives there today to live there tomorrow,” he said. “We believe it’s possible to accommodate the same number of people who make, say, 60 percent of the area median income or less, if we build it into our planning.”
Zimmerman said thirty years ago, when the county began planning for the Orange Line, it was so focused on attracting affluent residents to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor it neglected affordable housing units. That lesson is serving Columbia Pike planners today, he said.
“The community is very supportive of this because people understand that a lot of what they like about the Columbia Pike corridor is its diversity,” he said. “We don’t want it to become homogeneous. We don’t want it to become a place that is just for affluent people.”
Arlington County is considered a national leader in urban planning and land use. Although the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor on the Metro's Orange Line covers about 10 percent of the county’s land mass it produces 55 percent of its tax base, according to George Washington University professor Chris Leinberger.
“If you were to look at it 25 years ago you’d say, this may become a slum. All the obsolete strip retail was vacant,” Leinberger said in an interview with WAMU. “Today they have fabulous public schools. It’s a very diverse community and it’s extremely walkable.”
Murphy and DeCamp believe the same will be said for the Columbia Pike corridor.
“I’m excited about the potential of the pike to save the diversity of residents we have here,” said Murphy, who said the goal of zero population displacement is attainable. “They’ve made that happen. It’s going to be an incredibly dynamic, diverse, energetic engine with the streetcar in combination with the housing overlay.”
Monday, September 17, 2012
This is the second of a two-part series on the relationship between gentrification and access to transit in Washington D.C.'s rapidly changing neighborhoods. Part 2 examines the Deanwood and Kenilworth neighborhoods in Ward 7. Part 1 examined the Shaw and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods in the Georgia Avenue corridor in Ward 1.
Despite the presence of three Metro stations -- four when counting the station just over the border in Prince George's County -- redevelopment has been slow to take hold in D.C.'s Ward 7. If you take the train east of the Anacostia River and arrive at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station in the Deanwood area, you will arrive in what looks like a different city in one significant respect: while other parts of Washington are exploding with new high-rise apartment buildings and retail space, this neighborhood is only starting to grow.
"We still like the small-town feel of this area, and we have an older population," says Dennis Chestnut, 62. He runs the grassroots community group Groundwork Anacostia. "We like to retain a little bit of that as the growth takes place, so I think that very rapid growth has its drawbacks."
"When you look at this Metro station and all of the space that is available here, there is opportunity here for Metro and transit-oriented retail that could support the community in a lot of ways," Chestnut added.
That section of the city has remained underserved for decades, and developers are now beginning to take advantage of what is fertile ground for real estate projects. At the very busy intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, ground has been broken on the Park 7 development, a $67 million mixed-use real estate project that will include 20,000 square feet of new retail space and mostly affordable rental housing among its 370 apartment units, a key to protecting existing residents from rising property values as gentrification takes root.
"The people who are most vulnerable are renters because their rents can keep going up," says Cheryl Cort, the policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "D.C. does have a moderate rent-control law for older buildings, but there are ways for building owners to get around that, so renters are most vulnerable to rising prices."
In July, about 100 affordable housing units for residents 55 and older opened at Victory Square on Barnes Street NE, a component of the ward's Parkside master plan. Tenants with moderate incomes will pay rents ranging from $775 to $960, according to a statement by the Banc of America Community Development Corporation.
There are at least seven major real estate projects in Ward 7 receiving city subsidies.
New transit and gentrification
Coming changes could cause unintended consequences for the ward's poorest residents. A plan to extend the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line east of the Anacostia River is under consideration. A study by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that neighborhoods that get new rail transit systems like streetcars experience a significant increase in housing prices. In some places, renters and low-income households have been priced out.
"A streetcar or light rail can lead to gentrification here," says Peter Tatian, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute. "It has in other places. It brings investment into a community and new people who are attracted by the new transportation. What the city needs to do is think about how it can take advantage of the benefits of light rail as well as mitigating the negatives that might exist, particularly for renters."
While many residents may welcome the streetcar line, Octaviah Holt, a 21-year-old professional, has her doubts about whom it will benefit.
"Who would put a trolley in this neighborhood?" says Holt. "I don't feel as though there is a lot of crime, but a lot of people wouldn't want to ride a trolley, the people that I know. I feel as though it's not for us, the people in the neighborhood. It's meant for the newcomers."
The perception that Ward 7 is not a place where developers want to build or people want to move is fading, according to Tatian.
"People who come out here will see the changes, but the problem is getting the people to come out here in the first place," he says. "There is still this perception that this is not a good place to be, but that is starting to change slowly."
New pedestrian bridge over I-295
One can get a bird's eye view of the traffic roaring by on Route 295 by standing on the old, narrow, poorly lit pedestrian bridge connecting Deanwood to Kenilworth. The latter neighborhood has been isolated from its neighbors since the highway was built through here, Chestnut says.
"This bridge is the only connection for this community to Minnesota Avenue and the Metro," he says. Now that Kenilworth is starting to grow, a new pedestrian bridge will be necessary to accommodate increased foot traffic.
"This pedestrian bridge was built a while ago, and it is time for it to be rebuilt," says Cheryl Cort. "It doesn't feel like a very safe place. We talk to residents and there's a tendency to use it during the daylight hours and take the bus home at night. The new pedestrian bridge will be designed to be a much safer place. It will deter crime."
Preparing for change
Whether the neighborhood Dennis Chestnut has called home his entire life can avoid the negative consequences of gentrification remains to be seen. The addition of affordable housing units amid new apartment buildings will certainly help. He says the late development of Deanwood has also turned out to be "a blessing."
"It wound up being a blessing in disguise for this particular area because of how rapidly it happened in some of the other areas," he says. "On the east side of the city, Ward 8 was one example of how rapidly it took place there. It has allowed the residents here in Ward 7 to witness that and to prepare to some extent. This is where the local engagement has been very important to get involved with the process."
Resident O'Neal Odom, 70, who has lived in the ward for 40 years, welcomes the expected transformation as major real estate projects are realized.
"We're finally starting to get some services," he says. "You know, streets fixed, getting stores, we are getting government. It's becoming a better place to live. I have no problem with gentrification. It's going to change like that anyway. Once they start building new houses and new things like that, people will stop being afraid of us."
For more on how gentrification has affected DC residents, listen to the TN documentary "Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality."
Thursday, September 13, 2012
(Washington, DC - WAMU) D.C. is known for its great tourist attractions -- not to mention political scandals -- but among real estate developers the metropolitan area is receiving attention for what one expert says is a pioneering approach to the development of neighborhoods.
The D.C. metro area is leading the nation in the creation of WalkUPs --Walkable Urban Places -- according to a report released by George Washington University professor and smart growth advocate Christopher Leinberger.
In Leinberger’s view, developers are reversing decades of thinking about how people want to live, work and be entertained by creating anti-sprawl: densely-built office space, housing, and retail space in urban settings where residents can have most of their daily needs met within 1,500 to 3,000 feet of where they live. While WalkUPs may differ in many respects from neighborhood to neighborhood, they all share one thing in common: access to multiple modes of transit, including commuter rail, bus, and bike sharing.
“There are 43 regionally significant WalkUPs in this region and they total only 17,500 acres, less than 1 percent of the land mass,” said Leinberger, who heads the political advocacy group Locus. “But this is the future of where most regionally significant job growth and development will go over the next generation.”
How walkable is your neighborhood? Leinberger developed a zero-to-100 scoring system at walkscore.com.
“These walkable urban places that I have been studying have a walk score that is a minimum of 70. As [a neighborhood] gets more walkable we have found that its economic performance goes up, and this is why developers are so fascinated by these places. Greater walkability, higher rents. But there is a downside to higher rents and that is basic affordability.”
The Capitol Riverfront neighborhood in Southeast D.C. may demonstrate the success of the WalkUP model. A blighted industrial landscape of oil storage tankers and trash transfer stations that was scarred by crime, prostitution and poverty, Capitol Riverfront – just five blocks from the U.S. Capitol building with two miles of riverfront real estate – has witnessed a rapid transformation over the past decade. The catalyst for change was the completion of the Navy Yard Metro Station in 1999, according to Michael Stevens, the executive director of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID), a non-profit that performs planning and infrastructure analysis.
“It was only until the Navy Yard Metro station opened in 1999 that I think people started to understand this could be an in-town neighborhood,” said Stevens, who said once the redevelopment of downtown D.C. was accomplished, developers could “jump” into adjacent neighborhood ripe for change.
In the past decade, the Green Line corridor has caught up to -- and exceeded -- the Rosslyn-Ballston Orange Line corridor in attracting the coveted 18-34 demographic, according to data compiled by the BID. From 2000 to 2010, the Green Line corridor attracted more than 3,400 new households in that age group, slightly more than Rosslyn-Ballston. In the previous decade such growth was nearly non-existent along the Green Line.
“We survey residents living down here on an annual basis and year in and year out the most important factor for them choosing to live in the neighborhood has been the access to multi-modal transit and the Metro station,” said Ted Skirbunt, the BID’s director of real estate research.
The WalkUP model has thrived because there's been an attitude shift among young professionals. Less interested in living in drivable suburbs where the costs of home ownership are incompatible with college debt bills, this cohort has been seeking smaller living spaces where cars -- and the parking spaces they require -- are unnecessary.
“We call it the five-minute neighborhood. Within a five-minute walk you can be at the grocery store, at the park where your kids are going to play or where you’re going to hear a concert. You can walk to your job. You can walk to a restaurant, a bar or entertainment venue,” said Stevens.
During an interview with Transportation Nation, Stevens pointed to an explosion of development taking place in an area covering just a couple square blocks: new loft apartments with ground floor restaurants, an old industrial building being converted into a retail and restaurant cluster, a 50,000-square foot grocery store, and 30,000-square foot health club. In a suburban setting, such development would require many more acres of space considering the parking lots that would be necessary.
“We are seeing a paradigm shift from an almost entirely suburban model to a generation that doesn’t necessarily want cars. They want multi-modal transportation choices. They want to live close to the urban cores where the action is and the jobs are,” Stevens said.
For more about DC's history with development, check out the TN documentary Back of the Bus: Race, Mass Transit and Inequality
To read more about this issue, check out How Transit Is Shaping the Gentrification of D.C., Part 1
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
(Armando Trull - Washington, DC, WAMU) The Silver Line to Dulles marked a major milestone Tuesday. Construction crews are fitting into place the final span for the bridges to carry the Silver Line trains.
"This marks the completion of the aerial structure of this project through Tyson's Corner," says Patrick Nowakowski, the executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. "We have over three miles of aerial structure and this is the last span being set into place."
The crews are using a truss longer than a football field to lift and move the 380-ton span, made up of 12 custom-cast concrete segments.
"Obviously when you're picking up anything this heavy and you have workers underneath it, you have to be very careful and do this in a safe manner," Nowakowski said. "We've been at this for several years now, so we've got it pretty well perfected, we take our time and we do it the right way."
When completed in late 2013, the span will carry trains over the Capital Beltway and into the heart of the largest employment center in Virginia -- Tyson's Corner. Eventually, the line will extend to Washington Dulles International Airport.
Friday, July 13, 2012
(Markette Smith -- Washington, DC, WAMU) More details have emerged about the July 3 train car derailment that happened during rush hour near West Hyattsville, Md.
Metro engineers inspected the tracks a day before the derailment, but say they found no warning signs. The following day, a portion of the railing buckled from the pressure of prolonged 100-degree weather. This "heat kink" caused a six-car Green line train to jump the tracks.
Now, Metro officials say the only way to prevent that from happening again is to change the way they install railing system-wide.
Dave Kubecik, Deputy General Manager of Metro Operations, says the likelihood of a track buckling increases when temperatures climb higher than 85 degrees. So now, they're trying new methods of installing rail that can withstand greater exposures to heat.
"Knowing that it's subjected to an environment of 95 and 100 degrees, you're going to have much more movement and energy that's going to have to be released or contracted," says Kubecik. "So by adopting a standard of 95 degrees neutral, basically that means that that infrastructure is designed to take more heat and it minimizes its movement."
This is the second incident of a Metro rail buckling under extreme heat this year.
The incident also prompted the institution of a new safety rule. After the train jumped the tracks, the six-car Green Line train momentarily lost power. The train operator had did not have a cell phone and had to walk to a communications outlet to alert the rail system of what happened.
As a result of the incident, Metro has instated a 5-minute rule. So now, in the case of a communications failure, if managers at headquarters do not hear from a train operator in the field within 5 minutes, then they will automatically send emergency responders.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
With time running down to a critical deadline, the Loudoun County, Virginia Board of Supervisors is weighing a range of options to pay for the $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line Metro rail project to Dulles Airport. The alternatives under consideration — and the scant time to reach a decision — are raising questions long asked by the project's critics, who say the multi-billion dollar undertaking is poorly planned and unfair to local taxpayers.
Loudoun County lawmakers have until July 4 to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion project that would complete the rail link between the Washington D.C. Metro system, the airport and beyond it into the county suburbs. Phase 1 of the Silver line will end short of the airport at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.
The Loudoun County Board will hold a work session Monday, June 18 on the proposed funding options, which include creating special tax districts to tax developers around the planned Metro stops, a countywide transportation service district that would provide money for both rail and road improvements and a commercial and industrial tax.
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who is leaning toward voting to opt into the project, released a letter to his constituents on Tuesday in which he laid out the financing options and his reasons for supporting the county's participation in the project.
"Depending on exactly how we finance the project, the amount that we'll have to spend each year is fairly easily absorbed in the budget without having to do anything significant to raise taxes," said Letourneau, who has argued that the county's general fund could possibly cover the Phase 2 costs.
The board would not have adequate time to actually implement any long-term financing plan before the July 4 deadline, but may present to the public a framework of its intentions. Some supervisors say a mere framework is inadequate considering the potential burden on taxpayers for years to come.
"It's going to take a combination of having a dedicated funding for highways, buses, and rail for me to support the project," said Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), who is leaning toward voting to opt out. "I would love to have a special tax district. The problem is there are not a lot of tax ratables there to keep the rate reasonable," referring to the current lack of development around the future Metro stops west of the airport, a sentiment shared by Letourneau.
"Frankly, those [tax districts] would not generate a tremendous amount of revenue, especially in the next couple years, because our areas are not developed," Letourneau said. However, as he described in his letter to constituents, Letourneau is satisfied the county can afford the project and should opt in while still figuring out the financing.
Supervisor Reid said the process is backwards. "If you don't get economic development, which is very likely because it is at the end of the rail line, then taxpayers are stuck holding the bag," he said.
Reid also doubts a tax only on businesses would work. "If you tax our businesses only to pay for Metro, it puts them at a disadvantage to businesses in Fairfax, Prince William and other jurisdictions," said Reid, pointing to Loudoun's less densely developed landscape. "The promise of Metro for Loudoun County is not what a lot of people think it will be."
Thursday, June 07, 2012
(Houston, TX -- KUHF) As work on Houston's new light rail lines reaches the halfway point, Metro is now looking at plans for the area's first commuter rail line that would bring people into the city from the suburbs.
Right now Metro is gathering public input on the proposed US 90A/Southwest Rail Corridor. It would be a nine-mile line that would bring commuters from Missouri City to the Fannin South Station. Riders could then hook up with the Red Line that runs through downtown and the Medical Center.
Metro's Jerome Gray says they're estimating about 24,000 people a day would use the new line to travel into the city from the southwest. "That corridor, that area, census projections show that we're going to see quite a population boom, about 25 percent until 2035."
Gray says they're looking at two proposed track alignments that would run along Highway 90 and they're now studying how the rail line would affect the local environment. They also have to figure out how to pay for the project, which is expected to cost about $500 million.
"While we're still going through the process of considering and figuring out where the money would come from," Gray says, "we also have to go ahead with this FTA (Federal Transit Administration) process, this environmental impact study, and the various things that we must do before requesting any type of federal assistance."
Construction on the line is still several years away and could start close to 2020.
For more about this project -- and to listen to the radio version of this story -- visit KUHF here.
Monday, June 04, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- Armando Trull, WAMU) As we reported earlier today, public transit ridership is up around the country. Some transit agencies are responding to the longer term trend of increased demand by building new lines. Others, like Washington D.C. area Metro is expanding service on their existing routes. Here's the latest from D.C.
D.C. Metro will start expanded rush hour service to reduce crowding and provide new transfer-free travel opportunities in two weeks. Employees were handing out information packets about the new "Rush Plus" service this morning.
The program will add more trains on the Orange, Blue, Green, and Yellow lines during rush hour.
Metro workers at Franconia Springfield station were handing out information leaflets to let riders there know that the station will soon be serviced by both Blue and Yellow line trains during rush hour. Some Blue Line trains become Yellow Line trains.
"It's adding more rush hour service for our customers," said Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, who was on hand this morning at Franconia-Springfield. "Here at Franconia-Springfield, people up until now have only seen Blue Line trains. Starting two weeks from now, they'll also see Yellow Line trains for a faster trip into the District without having to change trains."
On the Orange Line, Metro will add three more trains in each direction every hour during rush hour to reduce crowded conditions. The map gets a little more confusing with the rush hour-only service. A revised version of the Metro map, with dashed lines for the new service, is also being posted to explain the expanded service.
Here's the new map or click below for full size:
Friday, May 18, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Subway doors shouldn't open while the train is in motion. But they did recently in Washington D.C. Scary stuff.
D.C. Metro's investigation team was able to replicate the mechanical problem that led to two incidents of uncommanded door openings on a Red Line train this week.
On Tuesday morning, riders told a Metro worker the doors were opening on their Red Line train while it was moving. That car — one of six in that train — was emptied of passengers and closed off. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says the rest of the train was kept in service.
"There was no indication that it was a broader issue," said Stessel. "It was thought to be an issue just with a particular set of doors in that one car."
Later in the journey, the doors on another car in that same six-car train opened en route, and then the entire train was taken out of service. It's not uncommon during rush hour to see people packed right up against the doors of Metro cars. That's why some passengers wonder whether the problem that happened on two 1000 series rails cars could happen again.
Patricia Smith was thinking about it on her Red Line train commute today: "On a morning rush hour, I guarantee you people are packed against that door and it's scary to think it could open on you. That is why I am sitting down."
According to the Metro investigation, they were able to replicate the incident, focusing on a misalignment of the contact head that transfers information between cars. Stessel said this particular train consisted of two 5000 series cars in the front, two 1000s in the middle, and two 6000s in the rear. The problem appeared to stem from the connection between the 5000 and 1000 series cars, which caused an electrical short.
Metro will begin in inspection of all 5000-series cars for similar issues.
No one was injured in either incident.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
(Washington, DC -- Armando Trull, WAMU) You've heard of Kiss and Ride and Park and Ride, but now Metro has opened its first Bike & Ride facility. At least 100 bikes can be stored in a covered, enclosed and secure location.
It's secure because there's steel doors and steel grates. And you can only get in using an electronic card, which is tied to a person's picture ID.
Deputy General Manager Carol Kissle. "It helps us attract riders to our system in a cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable way. That's really important for us, to give riders that flexibility in our system."
By next summer, secured bicycle parking facilities will built at the Vienna and King Street stations. Over the next five years, Bike and Ride will be rolled out in the District as well as more Virginia and Maryland locations.
Rates for Bike & Ride are 5 cents per hour between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight and 2 cents an hour all other times.