WMATA: Regional capital investment has delivered safety, more reliable service

Aug. 9, 2021
A report marking the halfway point of a six-year plan shows a reduction in emergency track repairs, increased availability of escalators and a system that provides free Wi-Fi in all stations.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) reports a safer, more reliable system as it reaches the halfway point of its six-year capital program and marks three years since the National Capital Region agreed to provide the authority with a dependable funding stream to address capital needs.

The “Progress Report to Stakeholders” includes opening statements from WMATA Board of Directors Chair Paul Smedberg and General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld in which Wiedefeld writes “Metro struggled to provide basic levels of service following a prolonged period of underinvestment in the system.”

Following the passage of legislation in 2018 by Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia Council to provide WMATA with $500 million in annual funding to aid the transit authority in executing its strategic plan “Keep Metro Safe, Reliable and Affordable,” at the three-year mark, WMATA reports:

  • A 50 percent reduction in emergency track repairs since FY2018 through WMATA’s preventative maintenance program;
  • A near 80 percent reduction in incidents resulting from insulator fires between FY2018 and FY2021 (from 39 to five);
  • The three years of cable meggering work also produced the first fiscal year (FY2021) with zero recorded traction power cable fires;
  • All 48 underground stations have received major lighting upgrades, making them up to 10 times brighter while reducing energy consumption by about 60 percent;
  • Cellular coverage is available in all tunnels and stations, as well as free Wi-Fi in all 91 stations;
  • The Platform Improvement Project has rebuilt 17 of 20 outdoor station platforms scheduled for critical repairs, improving safety and accessibility while adding customer experience improvements such as new passenger information displays;
  • Work to increase the system’s water pumping capacity results in 6.75 million gallons of water removed from the system every four days, which is enough to fill the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool; and
  • 95 percent of the system’s escalators and 97 percent of its elevators are available for customer use every day on average.

“We are only halfway through the six-year capital program, but the region’s investment is paying dividends to our customers who are getting better service,” said Wiedefeld. “Riders who are returning for the first time since the pandemic will see a more reliable train service than we’ve offered in years.”

Metro’s report notes that customers should expect more work ahead in parts of the system that still need attention, including: new fare gates in rail stations and new fare boxes on buses through the Fare System Modernization program; rehabilitation of the steel-lined tunnel and bridge on the Yellow Line between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations, starting in 2022; and implementation of projects where pilots are successful, including tunnel waterproofing and tunnel ventilation improvements.

“Our customers can’t always see the investments being made in infrastructure and support systems, but they can notice a difference in the safety and reliability of Metrorail service,” said Smedberg. “While there is more work to be done, the customer experience has improved significantly since the days of SafeTrack.”

The full “Progress Report to Stakeholders – Keep Metro Safe, Reliable and Affordable – 2018-2021” is available through WMATA’s website.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.

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