The new Metro boss Randy Clarke says the priority is rail transport


Nine months after a railcar shortage that has reeled Metro and the Washington region, the transit agency’s new head said Thursday that returning to full service is its most urgent priority.

cool Appearing before Metro’s board of directors for the first time, Clarke made some of his earliest public comments after taking an oath formalizing a position he began on Monday. Its challenges include a slow recovery in fare-paying passengers, recurring track safety violations, staff shortages and the final preparations for the long-delayed Silver Line extension.

The system’s problems arise against a backdrop of changing commuting patterns and a changing customer base driven by telecommuting. While a sharp drop in ridership is expected to result in difficult budget decisions, Clarke said his most immediate concern is the lack of trains, which has led to restricted rail service as the region struggles to recover from the pandemic.

“We need to ensure that Metro delivers the world-class transit system that the national capital region needs and deserves,” said Clarke, who was previously chief executive of Austin’s transit system. “And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this region needs and deserves it, and we’re going to make it the pride of the region again.”

Clarke, 45, replaces Paul J. Wiedefeld, Metro’s head for the past six years, who resigned in May after transit security officials found nearly half of train operators lacked recertification. The revelation brought Metro’s board of directors and regional leaders, who were frustrated with safety failures, to defect.

New Metro GM faces safety and financial challenges on day one

Unlike his predecessor, Clarke said, the public will not hear him stress safety as publicly as Wiedefeld did. The former general manager for Metro’s unofficial mantra and mission was to “put safety first.” Clarke, who served as chief safety officer for Boston’s transit system, said safety will be intrinsic.

“You won’t hear me talk much about security because I truly believe you will never run a service that isn’t secure,” Clarke said. “So they’re not a binary thing to choose between. We are running a secure service or the service should not be running.”

Board member Tracy Hadden Loh said she needed to hear that reassurance keep top priority as most of Metro’s problems involve overlooking or ignoring security.

“I know when you step into a new role there’s a desire to have a lot of early wins,” she told Clarke. “And I want that for you. i want this for us But I know you’re a former chief safety officer yourself, so you probably don’t need me to tell you this, but to reiterate, safety first.”

Since starting her job this week, Clarke has boarded trains to talk to passengers, toured subway facilities and met with DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). He commuted daily to Metro’s offices in L’Enfant Plaza using the rail system, which he promised after taking the job in April.

He said he plans to head to the Metro’s Greenbelt track Thursday night Yard to see wheel inspections being performed on the agency’s 7000 series trains. Metro’s shortage of trains was caused by the discontinuation of the series, which accounts for 60 percent of the agency’s fleet. They were paused in October after a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into a derailment revealed a defect in several of the car’s wheels.

In June, Metro’s regulator, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, allowed the Metro to return 64 of the 748 abandoned cars on a given day when their wheels were checked for signs of the slowly progressing defect. Clarke was also expected to be briefed on an automated wheel-gauging system Metro is testing that should allow for faster wheel checks, which transit officials hope will allow all suspended cars to be reinstated.

Clarke is also a frequent user of Twitter. His comments on Thursday came a day after him he apologized to a woman who uploaded a video to social media saying she was sexually harassed at Foggy Bottom Station – an incident Clarke said transit police are investigating.

After hours of discussions with drivers and regional area managers this week, Clarke gave the board a presentation of his orientation tour and said the top three issues drivers want to address Frequency of service, fare policy – ​​including fare evasion and fare structure – and customer communications.

He told board members that the transit agency was making progress opening the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, adding that Metro should be ready to receive accreditation from the Safety Commission and the Federal Transit Administration in October apply for. Accreditation is one of the final hurdles to opening the line, although Clarke said he was unwilling to give a possible opening date.

“This is another really, really important milestone [the] Silver Line is up and running,” said Clarke.

New Metro GM faces safety and financial challenges on day one

Meanwhile, Metro is taking steps to reduce wait times on all six lines. From Monday, Metrorail wait times between trains on weekdays will be reduced to 10 minutes on the Red Line and 15 minutes on other lines. Currently, wait times on the blue, orange, and silver lines are up to 20 minutes, although trains arrive more frequently at stations served by multiple lines.

Metro plans to bring the same frequencies to the blue, orange, and silver lines on weekends starting in September.

Clarke said the increased availability of rolling stock is allowing the Metro to run additional trains. Trains from the Yellow Line will be transferred to other lines when it closes for an eight-month bridge and tunnel project this fall.

The biggest boost to the service, traffic officials concede, would come from the reintroduction of the 7000-series trains. Clarke said returning those cars will help Metro address other issues, such as: B. impending financing problems and increasing crime. After surviving the federal transit agency of pandemic aid, it faces a budget deficit of more than $300 million next year.

Without providing the full service, transit officials say they are unsure of the size of their customer base – and fare revenue – as society continues to recover from the pandemic. Officials on Thursday acknowledged that some drivers are avoiding the system because of long waits.

Metro’s new general manager is optimistic that passengers will return

“I think we need to settle our bread-and-butter issues before we can get to the bigger conversation,” Clarke said. “Well that doesn’t mean they don’t run in parallel at certain points, but I think a lot of the issues that we just discussed – we need to get better service, we need more frequency, we need people back on the system. “

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