Editorial: More Than a Day To Fix Metrorail

Yesterday’s unprecedented closure of the full D.C. regional Metrorail system to examine and make critical fixes to the system certainly disrupted the routines of many thousands in the region. While the move was affirmed by every responsible public official, even seasoned commuters who’ve grown dependent on the system have had to concede that there can be no serious complaining about fixes done in the name of safety.

But the one-day interruption could be raising more questions than it answers. Can WMATA’s new general manager Paul Wiedefeld say with confidence that the corrections made in that one day were really sufficient to fix everything wrong or potentially dangerous that should require attention? Concerns may actually arise in the face of this action that it was merely a band aid, or even simply cosmetic.

It cannot be stressed too much that the public must demand the WMATA leadership not try to cover up for the stingy U.S. Congress that needs to bear the burden for keeping the system going. Underfunding on infrastructure in this nation is a scandal, whether it is in Flint, Michigan or anywhere else. The idea of burdening local jurisdictions with the cost of maintaining vital components of major infrastructure projects is also a joke. Passing the buck like that is almost like not funding at all.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said this about yesterday’s closure of Metro: “It took years for Metrorail to end up in this situation, where maintenance underfunding left us with the problems we see today. Clearly, we have a ways to go to repair Metro’s aging systems….We hope that the ongoing challenges facing Metro will prompt our elected leaders to work together to provide the funding necessary to fix longstanding maintenance and rehabilitation problems. Failure is not an option.”

Underfunding has not only led to an aging system sorely in need of rehabilitation and maintenance, it has also led to the general under-performance of the system from the start. The system has been held back terribly by underinvestment, especially to be able to provide the necessary frequency and extension of hours of operation to make it a genuine alternative for many, many more in the region than use it, or rarely use it, now.

The biggest difference between the Metrorail here and the subway system in New York, where it really works for a population five times larger than here, has nothing to do with the amount of graffiti on its station or rail car walls. It has to do with the fact that the system is extremely passenger-centric, offering a frequency of trains and expanded hours of operation to make it indispensable to the average New Yorker.

The problem with WMATA and other mass transit options and plans around here is that they pull their punches badly and thereby present a shadow of what the region really needs. No one-day patchwork fixes can solve this endemic problem.

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