Friday, July 31, 2015
My Priorities for Metro Rail
So I write about the DC Metro Rail system, aka, the DC subway system, a lot. It is a major part of my life, like 90 minutes a day plus getting to and from the stations. That is 90 minutes when the system is running on time, which it doesn't do a couple of days a week. Delays add anyplace from a couple of minutes to an hour each way. There are perpetual problems, the doors break if they get blocked too many times. That is oldest issue in the system, dating back to the first day of service. Until this year all of the rolling stock entering service had the same door design that has been giving trouble for decades, they have never retrofitted the cars with a more reliable design. When doors won't close or won't indicate an all closed to the operator, the train goes out of service, either waiting for that car to be emptied and locked out by service personnel, or more commonly offloaded and taken back the yard for repairs. There are lesser problems with rails, switches, and brakes that lead to reliability issues.
Metro talks constantly about rebuilding to enhance safety, and safety is important, but what about reliability. Given a trade off of reliability or safety, I have reached the point of saying fix the reliability issues first. Here is why, I have been here almost 7 years, 10 people have died in active Metro train operations in 7 years (9 passengers and 1 train operator.) These were tragic and unnecessary deaths, but when you look at the millions and millions of passengers moved over 7 years, it is also a pretty safe system. It is safer then driving, it might even be safer then the stations - I think there have been that many murders in the stations in 7 years. I will take my odds on safety, what I want is a reliable system.
The trains also have to be comfortable, and for the most part they are, until the peak of summer when it is in the mid 90's with humidity to match and the air conditioning does not work in probably 5% of the cars. Ranking safety, comfort and reliability, I have to say for me number 1 is reliability, number 2 is comfort and number 3 is safety. No government agency screams about reliability or comfort, they scream about safety, but the system is relatively safe. If Metro wants to attract and keep fare paying riders, it needs to work on reliability and comfort.