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UPDATED: Berliner Wants Metro To Consult With MoCo Before Closing Red Line Stations

by Aaron Kraut — August 26, 2013 at 12:45 pm 751 0

Flickr photo by AlbinoFlea

UPDATED 5:40 p.m. Councilmember Roger Berliner says any work on water leaks in the Red Line Metro tunnel near Medical Center and Friendship Heights would not start for at least two years, according to a conversation he had with higher-ups at WMATA.

Berliner said WMATA officials also said a study of alternatives for plugging the leaks won’t be done for five or six months. Berliner sent a letter to WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles over the weekend indicating his disappointment that the county had not been notified that the transit system was looking for a long-term fix to the tunnel leaks.

Berliner’s full statement from this afternoon:

After consulting with WMATA’s Acting General Manager, I am satisfied that WMATA will explore all options in seeking to address the problem of water infiltration on the Red Line.  I stressed that closure of the system would be damaging to our County and to Metro ridership.  WMATA officials indicated that the study of alternatives will not be concluded for five-to-six months, that the agency plans to bring in experts from around the world to review their assessment and that any work that may be required will not commence for two years at least.  Importantly, WMATA also is committed to working with our County and all affected stakeholders before reaching a final decision.

ORIGINAL Last Friday’s news that water seepage issues in the Red Line Metro tunnel could cause a weeks-long shutdown of three Bethesda stations has caused quite the stir, even as WMATA says it hasn’t determined if a closure will be necessary.

NBC Washington reported the only way to permanently repair water infiltration problems in the Red Line tunnel near the Medical Center and Friendship Heights stations would be to shut down Metro service there for up to six weeks. Metro officials quickly attempted to tamp down that report, saying no final decision has been made on what repairs will be made to the tunnel.

But Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda), who chairs the Council’s Transportation Committee, wants certain assurances from Metro before any major repair work begins.

In a letter to WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles sent over the weekend, Berliner said he was “disappointed to have learned about this possibility in the press.” He also requested that WMATA consult with the county before making any final decision and that the transit system explore all possible options for repairing the leaks that wouldn’t involve shutting down the Red Line from Medical Center to Friendship Heights.

“The Red Line is one of the most important transportation corridors to Montgomery County and to the constituents that I represent. WMATA has a special responsibility to work with our County on issues that could have such a significant impact on the quality of life of our residents,” Berliner wrote. (You can read the full text of the letter after the jump.)

Metro Deputy General Manager Rob Troup on Friday assured Red Line riders the leaks are not a safety issue but do lead to arcing insulators that have caused disruptions to Red Line service. Arcing insulators — smoke caused from water hitting the electric third-rail — caused delays in the Metro tunnel near the Medical Center station twice in six days in late May and early June.

Water poses a problem for several reasons.  First, it causes premature corrosion of the rails, requiring that we replace sections of steel more frequently than anywhere else on the system.  It also conducts electricity and can cause “arcing third-rail insulators” that can disrupt your commute.  And it results in a sludgy, muddy buildup on the tunnel floor that must be constantly dredged and pumped to allow switches to move freely.  All of this requires a significant amount of ongoing maintenance, which we perform routinely.

Although this is not a safety issue, our engineers are now considering comprehensive long-term solutions to improve the reliability of this section of the Red Line for years to come, while reducing the current maintenance requirements.

Troup and Metro have said that any decision about long-term repairs that would affect service would be shared with the public months in advance.

Marc Korman, a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 16, picked up on the issue on Friday on his Facebook page. Korman has included creating a dedicated funding source for improving Metro in his campaign platform:

The fact that we are even having this conversation demonstrates that much more attention needs to be paid to Metro issues, including capital repairs and service.

He later wrote:

Three ways to improve Metro:

1. Increased oversight from the state. Maryland pays the bills (along with DC and Virginia). It needs to pay more attention to how the hundreds of millions of dollars it sends to Metro is being spent and managed.

2. Push for better management and better communications. How many times have you sat on a Metro train and been told the train will be moving “momentarily” or waited at a bus stop for a bus that has gone completely off schedule? These small moments are a metaphor for Metro in general and its governing agency (WMATA).

3. A regional dedicated funding source with Virginia and DC, probably in the form of a real estate or sales tax.

Metro is important even if you don’t ride the buses or rail: We need Metro to prosper economically; those who commute by car don’t want transit riders adding to the traffic; and less cars means less pollution. But Metro is developing a reputation as high cost and unreliable. We need to fix Metro.

The full text of Berliner’s letter follows:

Dear Mr. Sarles:

I am writing in response to the recent press accounts with respect to the water issues affecting the Red Line and the engineering analysis underway that could possibly lead to a shutdown of a critically important segment of the line — from Friendship Heights to the Medical Center — in Montgomery County.

First, I deeply regret and am disappointed to have learned about this possibility in the press.  While I appreciate the subsequent clarifications that no final decision has been made regarding the actions WMATA may take to address this problem, it clearly has advanced to the stage where senior WMATA staff were discussing the possibility of closing a key segment of the Red Line for an extended period of time.  In my view, this possibility should not have advanced this far along without consultation with our County.

Going forward, I have two requests:  (1) that WMATA in fact consult with Montgomery County prior to making any final decision, including a full briefing after the engineering analysis is completed; and (2) that you instruct your engineers to explore all possible options for addressing this issue, with a particular emphasis on those options that would not result in a shutdown of this key segment of the Red Line.

The Red Line is one of the most important transportation corridors to Montgomery County and to the constituents that I represent.  WMATA has a special responsibility to work with our County on issues that could have such a significant impact on the quality of life of our residents.

I thank you in advance for your consideration of these requests and my concerns.

Flickr photo by AlbinoFlea

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