Image by DCErica used with permission.

Repair work is needed on platforms at most stations between National Airport down to Huntington, as well as others throughout the Metrorail system. The granite edges at some of these stations are on braces, as they’re less and less able to hold their own weight. Single-tracking or full shutdowns will be required to allow crews to access and fix the issues.

Inbound platform at King Street Metro Station showing a number of braces supporting the platform’s granite edge. Image by the author.

Metro issued a Request For Information (RFI) in late January asking for input from construction companies about how they might best rehabilitate and/or replace some of the rail system’s platforms. The RFI is unique in that it refers to complete replacement of some platforms down to the concrete slabs under the granite edges, which would require extended outages.

It’s unknown how many station platforms Metro is thinking they might need to replace. The timeline for when work might be done has not yet been defined, and could potentially still change.

As a hypothetical question, Metro asked companies how much work they might be able to get done if a station needing rehab work was shut down for 90 days during the summer — no rail service on either track, 24/7 for the full 90 days. It notes that “Due to the number of platforms that need to be rebuilt, it is known that a single contract for the program will cover multiple years.”

Degraded platforms are a safety issue

Each Metrorail platform consists of three sections: the main center tiled section which makes up the majority of the platform, a two-foot ADA detectable warning surface with bumps, and strips of granite with built-in train approach warning lights.

If you’ve ever looked out the front or back of a Metro train, you may have noticed that there’s nothing under the granite platform edges. The empty space is there to act as an emergency refuge area to get out of the way of an oncoming train if someone were to happen to fall down onto the trackbed. Braces — which by all accounts should only be a temporary patch — supporting the platform not only indicate structural support issues, but also block easy access to quickly get out of the way of an oncoming train.

Platform braces shown on the inbound track at Braddock Road Metro Station. Image by the author.

One station getting special attention is Rhode Island Avenue, which underwent emergency repairs and closed for a weekend in late 2017 following two incidents in which chunks of concrete fell to the ground.

In a separate RFI, Metro is considering allowing the station to be shut down for 44 days to allow a contractor to perform a large amount of work: replacing all the concrete ceiling tiles, track deck slabs, platform supports, track deck edges, and more. As this is only an RFI and not a legal agreement between Metro and a contractor, there is no date or timeframe yet set when the work would be performed. But Metro has set aside $6 million in its capital budget to pay for repairs to the station.

Platform braces on the inbound track at National Airport Metro Station. Image by the author.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) inspectors made note of the jacks holding up some of the platforms, specifically at King Street, during Surge 13. “FWSO [FTA WMATA Safety Oversight] inspectors noted deteriorating conditions at station platforms, currently being supported with jacks, which is not scheduled to be corrected in the SafeTrack scope of work.”

Service changes learned from past work

Other stations that have undergone platform rehab work include Deanwood and Minnesota Ave in a major six-year construction project on the Orange/Blue lines which wrapped up in 2016. However in that case, the two stations’ platforms were replaced without completely shutting the station down.

That meant trains single-tracked through the stations when work was being performed which kept service running, but slowed down the speed that the work was accomplished. To that effect, a slideshow presented to the Riders Advisory Committee back in 2007 provided an overview of the “new porcelain tile standard” which would be used during the rehab, nine years before the project finished up.

Platform markings noting the “optimal boarding area” at Rhode Island Avenue station, inbound.

One of the apparent lessons that Metro learned during SafeTrack is that major construction projects work better as full track shutdowns instead of providing single-track service. Several surges originally announced by Metro during the program originally scheduled to have single-tracking were changed later to be full shutdowns. Metro said this was done “to minimize the customer impact elsewhere on the system and to maximize productivity.”

We previously wrote how Metro’s old method of defaulting to doing work during single-tracking instead of weekend or extended shutdowns is part of how the agency’s track repair backlog grew so long.

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Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.