DC’s New Transportation Reality
So, I tend to keep an eye on the comments people are making on Twitter in regards to WMATA (good and bad). You may have noticed. One thing I keep seeing are comments like “how could you be doing track work on a game day?” or “with all these people in town for [x event] you’re doing track work?”. Which has brought me here – to this post.
WMATA track work is here to stay.
You can expect mid-day, overnight, and weekend track work for at LEAST the next 6 years – and it won’t stop for your baseball game, walk to cure something, or because you need to get to the airport to catch a flight.
Folks, this is the new reality in DC transportation – not the exception any longer.
How we got here:
Those of us who are fairly new to the area (I’m just over 2 years here) have to ask questions to find out what happened to WMATA. The answers are in the form of archived news articles, people’s stories, and quite frankly a lot of asking “WTF?”. What I’ve found is a back-story of DECADES of neglect to the rail system. Apparently over roughly 20 years (the system’s only 36 years old) there was a lack of funding or priority by management to keep the system maintained. Necessary track work that could have been done sporadically overnight in the span of a year didn’t get done – and now it means single-tracking through an area for an entire weekend (or several weekends) to get it done now.
Who’s to blame:
At this point blame may be pointless, but anger often needs an outlet and we do want to avoid making the same mistakes again. From what I can tell the majority of the blame here lies with the former WMATA Board members, who are/were elected officials. Surprised? Didn’t think so. Of course nothing will be done about their lack of vision or care for your safety – it’s all water under the Yellow Line bridge now.
What it all means:
WMATA now realizes it needs to do track work just to keep the system running – but on top of that it has YEARS of backlogged track work that also needs to be done. They’re doing mid-day weekday track work, overnight track work, and weekend track work and STILL won’t be caught up till 2019 (per a June 14th board meeting presentation).
Let me be blunt here: this means at LEAST SIX MORE YEARS OF THIS.
At least 6 more years of mid-day, overnight, and weekend track work just to catch up. Then I’m sure the work will continue at some point at a lesser rate.
Welcome to the new DC.
It’s probably a good idea for anyone who lives here in DC to go ahead and get it in their heads that WMATA will not be a “world class” rail system anytime soon. If you enter the system at 9 PM on a weeknight you should just know that by 10 it’ll be single-tracking SOMEWHERE and it WILL affect you. If you plan on going anywhere on a weekend over the next 6 years you should KNOW that it will take you a long time to get there. WMATA makes very few exceptions for events or holidays – and certainly none just because you want to meet friends across town for Sunday brunch.
So, this is how we live now. We either accept it or live in anguish for many years.
There are options:
Luckily, because you live in such a great area, you have options.
1) Alternate methods: DC is lucky enough to have ZipCars and BikeShare and cabs and a bus system. Seems like every week there’s some new alternative to Metro Rail making it’s way onto the scene. If you absolutely MUST make your flight or train you should consider these other methods – and at what cost you’ll have to pay for the their luxury.
2) Be informed. One piece of good news is that WMATA is getting better at informing people on what’s going on. They’re using Twitter better than ever and the website is chock-full of information about delays, construction plans, and alternatives. They still have a ways to go (don’t trust PIDs during single-tracking and don’t trust the trip-planner either) but they’re making an effort. In our new reality that is DC transit everyone should make an effort BEFORE you go somewhere to check out these information paths and be informed. This will save you headache and allow you to better plan.
3) Complain. I’m a huge believer in constructive complaining. It’s one thing to say “I HATE METRO!” (nonconstructive) and another to say “I HATE METRO – another train offloaded due to mechanical issues at Ballston”. Constructive complaining helps others and puts reason behind rage. I also encourage you to contact your elected officials and DEMAND that WMATA never get behind on maintenance ever again. If you have other suggestions that you feel aren’t being heard you can complain to folks like myself or @unsuckdcmetro – we’re always happy to try to help.
6+ more years, folks. Time to adapt or scream (or both).