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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Metro’

The National Troupe of Silly Bureaucrats (NTSB) wants to downgrade Washington Metro into a commuter-rail service. They are recommending that Metro be brought under FRA regulation:

Metro’s safety problems are so severe and persistent that federal officials should take a much stronger role in monitoring the subway system: reclassifying it as a commuter railroad so the transit agency can be subject to tougher regulations and penalties, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

In an “urgent” recommendation to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the safety board’s chairman, Christopher A. Hart, cited years of “repeated and ongoing deficiencies” in Metro and said the current oversight process, involving the Federal Transit Administration, is inadequate and bound to keep failing.

Hart urged Foxx to ask Congress for the authority to reclassify Metro as a commuter railroad, which would remove the subway from the FTA’s safety oversight and place it under the “robust inspection, oversight, regulatory, and enforcement authority” of the larger, more powerful Federal Railroad Administration.

As if Washington Metro didn’t have enough problems.

Once it becomes an FRA-regulated railroad, Metro would need waivers just to run lightweight equipment. Metro would have to deal with all the ridiculous operating rules, like mandatory brake-checks at the start of reach run. The costs would be staggering.

He [Hart] also mentioned the Aug. 6 derailment of a train — which was not carrying passengers — between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations.

Right…because the FRA has done such a fantastic job of preventing derailments on MetroNorth and Amtrak.

The Federal Railroad Administration oversees “heavy” systems — freight and commuter lines, such as MARC and VRE, as well as Amtrak. But the closest system to an urban subway that the administration oversees is the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) line, a 14-mile rapid transit link between New Jersey and New York. About half of PATH’s tracks are underground.

In its recommendation, the NTSB uses PATH as the model for FRA regulation of Metro. But as I pointed out last year, FRA regulation of PATH has been an unmitigated disaster. FRA rules increase PATH operating costs by a factor of 3 — and haven’t done anything to improve safety.

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When it comes to managing projects, Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) is no stranger to controversy. Here is another screwup of a project involving PB, and this one could be very costly:

Metro could walk away from the troubled Silver Spring Transit Center if it isn’t satisfied with repairs Montgomery County will have to make to the $112 million bus-and-train hub, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.

Metro was supposed to assume control of the three-level structure at least two years ago. But an engineering report released Tuesday found the facility unusable and unsafe in its current condition, plagued by design and construction errors that led to cracked, inadequately strengthened concrete. The opening, delayed several times, has been postponed indefinitely, as officials devise a plan to address the problems.

“If we’re not satisfied [with it] we won’t accept it,” said Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman and director of communications. “If the facility is not safe or there are issues regarding its long-term maintainability, we have the right to not accept it.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff provided on-site construction project management, with responsibility for site structural inspection. As noted in the report:

PB’s structural engineer visited the site and reviewed the area of a pour before the pour for a number of deck pours and in each case, PB’s structural engineer eventually signed off on them (we can only find eight such reports for the eighteen post‐tensioned deck pours, including subpours, in the information provided).

There are notations in the RBB reports of cold joints forming in the concrete as shown in jobsite photographs (Attachment 13) (i.e., concrete hardening not at a pre‐planned joint) without indications as to the resolution of those unplanned joints, only that stressing was delayed.

In the information provided, we can only find PB approval of formwork removal and stressing record review for limited pours.

We can find only one inspection report in those supplied with notation of formwork inspection required of RBB, and then without detail.

Despite Project requirements, we can find no record of measurement of slab thickness, in situ clear cover determination, or of the deck finishing process in the RBB reports presented to us. We can find only several notations in the RBB daily reports regarding the concrete curing process used as to methods and/or time, and only limited records of in situ concrete deck temperatures. Also, there are no notations as to above slab wind break installation. We found no RBB inspection reports of the installation of the evaporation retarder called for or the curing compound called for, nor for any deck curing methods used in the non‐winter months.

There are several Project photographs that show workers using procedures that are not approved for winter concreting. Attachment 14 shows a worker spraying something, presumably an evaporation retarder or curing compound, on the concrete slab while walking on it. Another photograph shows a worker using a Rosebud acetylene torch (Attachment 14A) in an apparent attempt to heat epoxy‐coated reinforcing before a pour. In a third photograph, a worker is apparently applying some type of deicer on the reinforcing steel. During the period 10/02/10‐10/05/10, cracks began appearing in slabs in areas where no stressing had not yet occurred.

There is an expansion joint called for on the Contract Documents in the center of the ellipse at each side. The distance to the temporary Pour Strip on the East and West end is approximately 240 feet on the centerline of the radius and another 40 feet (280 feet total) on the outside radius. (A Pour Strip is an area of a slab left out during construction and then placed after adjacent concrete has been poured and has had an opportunity to shrink. It is not an expansion joint.) We would note the as‐designed Pour Strips themselves are substantially wider than the normal 3‐4 foot Industry Standard.

Read the entire report at: report-structural-evaluation-of-superstructure.

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Washington Metro held a Press Tour of the new 7000-series railcar. Here is what Metro is calling a modern “21st century” railcar:

As you can see, they got rid of the carpeting . But other than that, it is basically the same 1970’s design.

Two years ago, blogger Matt Johnson enumerated all the ways the disappointments with this new design. The biggest problem is that these are not articulated railcars, Even more surprising was to read that passengers won’t be able to move between cars at all.

Except for the USA, articulated railcars are becoming the norm. Articulation increases the usable space on the train, and eliminates “hotspot” crowding in one particular car.  Articulation posed no technical problems because Metro already operates trains in married pairs, and the new railcars  are not intended to be backwards compatible with earlier cars.

So what possible reason did staff have for not using articulated trains? Yonah Freemark asked that very question, and the answer is that Metro staff just hates change:

Metro spokesperson Lisa Farbstein: “We have not designed our cars that way. It’s a choice we made when we started the system decades ago. No plans to change it just to change it.”

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The 2009 Washington Metro collision, which killed 9 and injured, is an example of what Dr. John Adams calls a low-frequency, high-impact event.

These types of events provoke over-response from political leaders to “do something”. Their counter-productive solution to the “problem” always fails even the most minimal cost-benefit analysis.

The Obama administration will propose that the federal government take over safety regulation of the nation’s subway and light-rail systems, responding to what it says is haphazard and ineffective oversight by state agencies. The proposal would affect every subway and light-rail system in the country, including large systems in Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“After the [Metro] train crash, we were all sitting around here scratching our heads, saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something about this,’ ” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an interview.

Certainly, there was no doubt that the Washington Metro accident was entirely preventable. Engineers had known for decades that the automatic train control system was faulty. Metro’s grossly incompetent managers failed in their basic duty to protect public safety, even in the face of numerous warnings about flaws in the system.

But just because a single transit agency in the US had ongoing management lapses, does that mean the best solution requires Federal takeover of all safety functions in all transit districts in all 50 states? Is that even feasible, or desirable?

Under the administration’s plan, states would be allowed to maintain oversight of their transit systems as long as they could demonstrate that they have enough fully-trained staff members to enforce federal safety rules.

This plan is similar to how the FRA currently functions; i.e. as classic example of unfunded Federal mandate.

The FTA bureaucrat gets to invent “safety” rule, and the transit agencies are forced to implement — regardless of whether the rule makes sense for a particular operation. The FTA only pays for the safety inspector, and not the costs to purchase new equipment to comply with any screwy new rule.

For older systems using lots of legacy equipment (like New York or San Francisco) it would necessitate billions in new costs with negligible benefit. Imagine having to retrofit a rooftop emergency portal into a cable car. Or replacing 30-year-old NYC subway cars because it does not have FTA-compliant anti-climber attachments.

Given their historic hostility to public transit, how odd to see Republicans on the right side of the issue:

Representative John L. Mica of Florida, the senior Republican on the committee, said he would prefer to see tougher state regulations and more federal financing to help states enforce them. He noted that transit systems vary enormously in size and operations and he questioned whether a single federal agency could or should supervise all of them.

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