How NOT To Run A Railroad


Or “is the Metro on fire? Nicki calls it a study in suck.

A Study in Suck

She then reference this page, which indicates problems significantly larger than suck. Actually if fires are a constant problem it’s gone way beyond “suck”

Fires are a dangerous hazard, especially on trains underground where the smoke can cause breathing issues and death.  Also, getting fire and rescue people into the tunnels and recue people into a tunnel and passengers out can be a problem.  So even one fire is a huge issue.  Having fire so regularly that a website has been set up to tell commuters whether the system is on fire is indications that things are really wrong.

The Washington Metro seems to have garnered itself a bad reputation in the last few years.  Operational difficulties have become the norm and delays are common.

Apparently maintenance was almost an afterthought for decades.

Even a casual reading of the news seems to a system that is breaking down.  The entire  system was even shut down for a day due to safety issues. Then there are the fires.

No other transit system that I know of has this problem. Admittedly I don’t have the actual data but there just doesn’t seem to be the regular news about ongoing issue with fires and most of what I do see are fires caused by trash, probably lit cigarettes.

Here’s Boston. Small fire, put out by MBTA employees, thirty minute delay.

A google search of the NY subway brings up one trash fire back in April and a commitment from the MTA to get more trash trains running to prevent it from happening again.

The Washington Post has an article with data from most of the major transit systems in the country.

Operating a transit system is a complicated and thankless endeavor for the people who work in them. If they do their jobs right, by and large the people in a transit system are invisible.  That doesn’t mean that the jobs are not important and no dedication is needed. Compare NYC’s transit system to the rest.  NYC’s subway alone is an order of magnitude larger in passenger miles than any of the others.  Yet by most of the metrics, it’s right there at the top when it comes to operations and passenger safety.  The only way that can happen in a system as old and complex as the NY subway system is if there is a huge effort to keep things running by everybody who works for the MTA. Even in the worst days of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the system kept running, even if it was by fingernails and stealing stuff from Peter to keep Paul running.

Washington Metro never seemed to develop the attitudes that prevail at MTA.  I’m guessing that most of the management and employees treated operation as just another government job.  I don’t know how system maintenance became a roundtuit on the Metro.  For things to get as bad as they are now, the neglect had to start almost from the beginning.  Transit system are usually fairly robust and designed for long lifespans. If you take of things, the system should last indefinitely, with parts being replaced on a more or less consistent schedule while operations don’t get interrupted unless an event like a major storm flood significant parts of the tunnels.  It’s amazing that the NY subway has had fewer issue from those flooded tunnels than Washington Metro has had from neglect.

Things aren’t going to get any better unless the system changes.  What changes?  If it were me, I would be looking for a private operator.  A private operator can be held accountable and hold itself and the employees accountable. Unlike the current government employees, that means that when things go wrong there is responsibility. Without people taking that responsibility service will only roll downhill until the system stops.


One comment

  1. penneyvanderbilt · October 19, 2016

    Reblogged this on PenneyVanderbilt and commented:
    Right after my thoughts. NY City MTA has it right:::


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