Metro GM Expects Ridership To Improve after SafeTrack Concludes
Emergency maintenance program’s last surge takes place next week on Red Line in Montgomery County
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefield speaking at the Twinbrook Metro station
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefield said Thursday he believes ridership numbers on Metrorail will improve once the SafeTrack maintenance program concludes its last emergency repair surge next week in Montgomery County.
Wiedefeld spoke at a press conference at the Twinbrook Metro station in Rockville that also provided an opportunity for local officials to remind the public that the Shady Grove and Rockville Metro stations will be closed from June 17 to 25 so track work can take place.
Metro’s ridership declined by 14 percent—totally about 15 million riders—between 2015 and 2016, according to the rail system’s estimates. During that time, Metro was plagued with safety issues including arcing insulators that caused smoke to gather on tracks and inside some stations. In January 2015 a rider died on a Yellow Line train that filled with smoke after it stopped in a tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C.
“I think we’ll start to see improvement on [ridership] by just getting [SafeTrack] out of the conversation,” Wiedefeld said. “Already we’re starting to see people come back to those areas that are no longer impacted.”
He also said the summer tourist season is expected to provide a boost to Metro’s ridership numbers.
The upcoming surge on Metro’s Red Line will be the 16th that has occurred throughout the system’s lines under the emergency repair program that began just over a year ago.
The work on the tracks between the Shady Grove and Twinbrook stations will focus on repairing rail ties and fasteners—what Wiedefeld described as “what holds the system together.”
Riders who use the Shady Grove and Rockville stations are being asked to travel to Twinbrook or Grosvenor and to use the parking garages at those locations before boarding the rail system. Metro will provide a shuttle bus service from the two closed stations to provide additional assistance. Officials also encouraged travelers to use the Brunswick Line MARC Train from Metropolitan Grove in Gaithersburg as an alternative. Montgomery County is providing 1,000 free MARC tickets to riders who would like to take those trains.
Jack Evans, the Washington, D.C., City Council member who chairs the Metro board of directors, said Thursday that while the end of SafeTrack should be celebrated by Metro, securing a dedicated funding source to pay for needed additional repairs remains a priority.
“We’ve saved the patient from dying, but the patient is still pretty sick,” Evans said.
An April report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments noted that Metro needs about $15.6 billion over the next 10 years to properly repair and maintain the rail system, but it’s about $6.1 billion short of the funding needed.
On Wednesday, the council of representatives from D.C., Maryland and Virginia approved a proposal that calls for a dedicated regional tax—which could be a sales tax increase—to fund Metro.
It will now be up to the jurisdictions where Metro provides service to approve the tax, which is likely to face political opposition in some places.
Wiedefeld said Thursday that he will focus on lobbying for dedicated funding over the next year.
“Every jurisdiction I’ve met with have said they have some issues they need to work through,” Wiedefeld said. “There’s pluses and minuses for everyone I talk to.”
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said he was proud that the council of governments took action to recommend the regional Metro tax.
“We are going to win in Virginia, we are going to win in Maryland, we are going to win in the District of Columbia,” Berliner said. “We can no longer be the only system in the United States of America that does not have a dedicated source of funding. So, let’s be clear—we are just starting this important work.”