Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Metro Bill Comes Due

This past Monday evening our local Metro rail system suffered the worst crash in its history when a train running on the Red Line north of town slammed at full speed into the back of another train that was stopped and waiting for a third train to clear the track ahead. Nine people were killed and at least 70 injured in the horrific accident, which was bad enough to make the international news - my in-laws called from Germany to make sure I was all right.

Any such accident is a terrible tragedy, but this one is worse because it was preventable. The train which failed to stop was made up of "Series 1000" cars, put into service between 1974 and 1978. The National Transportation Safety Board had recommended in 2006 (after a previous accident) that those cars be replaced. They weren't. The problem, of course, is money - almost a quarter of all Metro cars are Series 1000, and the cost of replacing them could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, which Metro doesn't have.

But from the Department of Shutting the Barn Door After the Horse Runs Off comes Maryland representative Stenny Hoyer, who plans to ask Congress for $3 billion to buy new cars and fund essential repairs and maintenance.

Why does it take a tragedy like this to get the powers that be to wake up and do the right thing?

In fairness to our elected reprehensives, it's not completely their fault. Everybody wants to have a world-class transit system, but nobody wants to have to pay for it. Passenger fares make up only a small part of the cost of running any transit system, but - unlike every other transit system in the country - our Metro system has no guaranteed source of funding. There are no commuter taxes, no budget lines for Metro support in the DC, Virginia, or Maryland budgets, and no routine appropriations from Congress. If you live here, you see the result all the time: station elevators and escalators that don't work, tiles on station floors that are slippery as ice when wet, and cars that are in service long past their safe service dates (how many of you are driving cars built between 1974 and 1978?).

I don't want to have to pay more than I have to for transportation any more than anyone else does. But I don't want to become a statistic, either. If it meant a safer, more reliable system, I'd be glad to pay more, either in fares or as a commuter tax. Unfortunately, irresponsible political rhetoric has driven home the message that all taxes are bad and must be opposed at all costs. Government should provide all the services we desire, but without asking us to help pay the bill.

The result is what you see.

I ride the Metro rail system every day. So far, I've been lucky.

I hope it lasts. And I hope this awful tragedy will finally serve as the wake-up call to the Federal government, our local governments, and our local citizens to do the right thing and pony up the money to fix the problem.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

I think it stems from the fact that most people believe that train travel is obsolete which is why they don't bother to try to get funding. Even though millions use it or would use it if it were available.

I think its criminal there are no passenger trains to Pittsburgh except Amtrack who's theme song is In The Ditch Again

Amanda said...

You mean these are the type of trains you catch to work everyday??? Phew! Thank goodness you're ok. I did read the news but it didn't click in my head that you were so close to the tragedy.

Debbie said...

No matter how much is spent on trains I will never ride them. What we discuss at our regional transportation meetings but don't see on the news is how most of the rails are terribly deteriorated and unsafe which is why our trains travel so slowly. The second issue, Homeland Security keeps hushed up, is the deliberate damage to the rails...a felony, if caught. Our local rails carry over 100 trains a day filled with coal for an electric generating plant that supplies NYC. Take a lesson from Spain and other European countries, rails are a popular terrorist target. I think I'll drive, fly or stay at home!

SusieQ said...

I was warming up to the idea of traveling by train until I read Debbie's comment about how unsafe train travel is today. I hate flying though. So, I am left with three other choices. I can travel by car, bus, or bicycle. Then there is always the horse and buggy. Don't knock it. The Amish get around that way.

All kidding aside, the rail accident in D.C. was a tragedy that could have been prevented. In order to acquire the money needed to keep the trains in good working order, I wonder if Metro passengers would be willing to pay so much per mile in fare equivalent to what it costs to drive a car per mile. I think it costs a little under 50 cents per mile to maintain a car all things considered (gas, oil, insurance, repairs, depreciation).

Mike said...

Nothing gets fixed until somebody dies. Let's hope this is a wake up call.

Leslie David said...

When I saw this on the news I didn't realize it was the Fort Totten station.

As an individual who refuses point blank to drive in the District I always take Metro (even in formalwear) and I think it's important to have a mass transit system that's reliable--I can't wait for the extension out where I am. I would gladly pay more taxes to support it since hopefully it keeps the number of cars on the road from being worse than it already is. However, while all the finger pointing is going on, right now we don't know if the crash was based on human error, computer malfunction or funky tracks. Until we know what caused the accident we can't really address how to fix it. Were the cars old? Yes, but railcars weren't built with the same level of obsolesence that our auto manufacturers built into their product. Metro has been in the process of replacing cars--I see more new cars than old ones on the Orange line when I'm riding. I was listening to WAMU today and they had Dr. Gridlock on talking about the incident--to pull all of the old rail cars off would reduce carrying capacity by 25%. Think about that when you're squeezed into a car on the Orange Line in the evening headed towards Vienna.

Debbie said...

Susie forgot motorcycles. Woo Hoo! The best way to travel.

anOCgirl said...

oh god. that image. i don't think i'll ever get used to it.

anyhoo, infrastructure is like the forgotten stepchild of funding priorities on a federal level. remember how obama proposed to spend x amount of dollars on infrastructure in his stimulus plan and then congress was like, oh hells no, let's cut this by 70%? yeah, well that infrastructure money could be used for metro and all other commuter (and regular) rail in this country that may be in desperate need for repair.