The second phase of SafeTrack wrapped up on July 3rd. I wanted to write about the work Metro did, but the agency has published next to nothing about the project’s status— the only video it has made available is marked as ‘unlisted’ on YouTube. Metro is slipping on its duty of keeping customers informed.
@MetroReasons we're working on the Surge 2 progress report! Hoping to have it posted mid-week.— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) June 27, 2016
One of General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s stated goals when he came on board was to make Metro more customer-focused. This includes communicating the day-to-day operations of the buses and trains, especially when there are major disruptions, like closing the tracks between the Benning Road Minnesota Avenue stations to Eastern Market, along with those between Rosslyn and Arlington National Cemetery, between June 18th and July 3rd.
Through the 16-day closure, the entirety of Metro communications of the progress of Surge 2 has been a one minute, 26-second, un-narrated video of B-roll with imagery of the track, workers performing a couple tasks, and some track machines moving equipment.
So what has happened? Here’s my best guess
A few comments from both Mr. Wiedefeld and others within Metro will allow us to work backward to figure out what has happened during Surge 2. While there’s been nothing definitively stated so far, we can try to speculate and discuss what may have been going on, as seen in the video Metro released.
The area that crews are working in is between Potomac Avenue station, which starts underground and continues above-ground to the aerial tracks east of Stadium-Armory, which split off toward Minnesota Avenue on the Orange line and Benning Road on the Blue/Silver Lines.
At Thursday’s WUSA9 Mission: Metro town hall event, Wiedefeld mentioned two cement mixers on-site making and pouring material as part of the track overhaul. The brief video shows workers putting pieces of wood in place outlining where grout pads, made from cement and which the rail and fasteners lie on top of, will be re-made. These pads lay on top of slabs of cement, which then ultimately are supported by the pillars of the aerial structure.
In addition, the video shows prime movers moving parts of switches — there are eight in this aerial section that make up the interlocking (a set of track switches) and allow trains to move from one track to another — into place. We know at least three of these switches had been replaced by June 28th. The rail that makes up the switches and the track in between them is secured to the afore-mentioned grout pads through a series of fasteners, which are also missing from parts of the track shown in the video.
Essentially, it appears that WMATA ripped out and replaced just about all of the rail infrastructure at the Orange and Blue/Silver line split (otherwise known as the “D&G interlocking”), and replaced it piece by piece.
Once the grout pads, fasteners, and switches were replaced, the track crews would presumably also have to repair or replace the signaling, power, and other electronic equipment in the area as well. How much work they did or didn’t do, and how old or in what shape the equipment that was there before, remains a mystery.
Passengers want and need to know what’s happening
Digestible, transparent, and frequent information is required for a major project like SafeTrack. A PDF at the end of each section boiling down two weeks of work into a single slide barely cuts it, and doesn’t provide the passengers using the system day in and day out with enough information to know that the proper work is being done well enough to sustain the system for years to come.
It’s critical going forward for Metro to regain the trust of riders who have shifted away from riding the rails to driving, carsharing, or biking, and get them back onto the system. That’s important not only to help Metro survive, but also to hopefully allow it to grow for years to come. Metrorail is critical to the DC area economy, but the system can’t succeed without its riders.
Metro knows how to do this right. One of the videos from the 2011 Metro Forward campaign shows a longer version of what goes into replacing an interlocking. The two-minute switch replacement timelapse shows the overnight and weekend work that went into laying down the switches necessary for the Silver Line to connect up to the Orange Line between West and East Falls Church (the “K&N Junction”), which included laying the ballast that the switches and ties lay on, and the electrical and signaling work required to integrate the switches into the Metro rail system.
Although it’s not narrated, the long view of the same location for the entire video lets you see all of what goes into a switch replacement— and with eight switches through the D&G, a video like that helps indicate the level of work needed. However, the inclusion of narration like several other Metro videos used to be can vastly help people understand what’s going on in the work area and what the videos are showing them.
Tl;dr: More honest, detailed, and factual information please, Metro.