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Metro Series: Incidents and Reception

Always looking to stay on the pulse, Curcio Law is beginning a blog series on the Washington Metro. Much like Donald Trump, our public transport system has been dominating local news of late, from faulty cables, smoking carriages, a 26 hour shut down, and now an entire year long refurbishing plan. But do we Washingtonians truly appreciate our clunky, unreliable rail system? To celebrate the Metro’s 40thanniversary and its subsequent facelift, in this 5 Part Series we’re going to discuss the history, construction, upkeep, and major events in our young rail system’s life.

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Everyone was extremely excited for the metro to finally open. When the first train ran on March 27, 1976 people lined up for free rides. The rides were smooth and the carpeted seats kept it quiet and pleasant. The hype for the metro eclipsed more than the projected tourists and commuters however, the new transit system inspired a magazine and a children’s book as well. It affected stocks, real estate and property values, and was written about as if a gift from the divine. (The opposite of the current feelings about the Brexit.) Metro wanted to create more than simply an option for public transport, they wanted to create an experience, a hub of life. Some stations were successful in generating small diverse areas full of shops and houses, becoming little hearts of activity, whereas others simply became surrounded by parking lots, not so much destinations, but commuter stops.

Riding the Metro was comfortable, easy, and safe for the most part. However, as in all things in life, mistakes happened. Below I’ve created an infograph with some of the most prominent accidents to happen in the Metro’s 40 years of existence. (There’s more exposition after the graph!)

Metro

 

Now, the Metro began as the shining star of Washington, a breath of innovation and success, a Rob Stark of public transit. But, if we recall from my earlier posts on the matter, the Metro plan was sped along and fraught with compromises from differing agencies and political agendas. The Metro was also headed by political appointees from 3 different jurisdictions: Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (four once the feds were brought in). There was no requirement for these representatives to have any background in transit, and until about 2000, that wasn’t an issue as the Metro was following a pre-planned construction timeline. However, once the stations were all built, the agency had to become a rail operator, meaning they had to confront issues of servicing the metro and other glamorously, mundane tasks. Furthermore, financing was becoming an issue. WMATA had no long term financial plans in place and was only receiving 2% of dedicated tax funds. WMATA, thus, was dependent on the public money from competing jurisdictions. However, the money they received from those jurisdictions came with instructions, and most of the funds were put towards the Metro Bus system and handicap services. So, while WMATA was receiving some funding, it was not going into the deteriorating rails, the very same rails whose hours of operation had been extended. In 2003 Metro pushed back its closing hours to 12 am on weeknights and 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays. While good news to riders, it left little time for maintenance, and with the poor initial planning of the Metro, any maintenance performed during hours of operation caused single tracking, which slowed and inconvenienced riders.

Thus a self-fulfilling prophecy was created, and we, the riders, suffered. Up next time: The Safety Surge, what is it, what it means, will it help?

 

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Thanks to Wikipedia, Metro, and https://chnm.gmu.edu/metro/index.html for the source information.

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