News & Politics

Metro Says It’s Sorry for Red Line Problems, but More Delays Are Inevitable

Three nightmarish rush hours prompt a Metro mea culpa, and some Twitter shade toward a DC mayoral candidate.

Photograph by Flickr user Ben Schumin.

Richard Sarles, the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said today that he is very, very sorry for the nightmarish delays Red Line passengers have suffered three days in the past week.

But even though he admitted Metro punted its reponses to customers who lost hours of their workdays, Sarles’ apology also suggested that the Red Line will continue to incur delays on its riders.

“That’s not the way we want to treat our customers,” he said outside Metro’s downtown DC headquarters.

Red Line passengers Thursday morning were slowed when a train got stranded between the Fort Totten and Brookland station about 8:15 AM after its brakes malfunctioned. That was soon followed by a switch failure, creating delays in both directions. The malfunctions came a day after Wednesday’s commute, when a dangling wire at the Woodley Park station forced trains to run on a single track for more than three hours. Last Thursday, trains were forced to single-track between Judiciary Square and Rhode Island Avenue for nearly four hours after a piece of maintenance equipment leaked hydraulic fluid on the rails.

Even though Sarles was apologetic, his advice for disgruntled passengers seemed out-of-touch with how people usually complain to Metro. “In the case of customers suffering extensive delays, they should contact the customer service center and we will address that,” he said.

But Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said that the agency’s call center only took about 35 calls related to rail service yesterday. Most rail complaints are delivered over social media, especially Twitter.

DC Mayor Vince Gray used a series of 140-character messages to chime in as Sarles spoke. “First, [WMATA] (an independent, regional agency) despite facing budget pressures, needs to do better,” the mayor tweeted.

Gray also used Metro’s foibles to throw some political shade: “Your Metro board rep is [Council member Muriel Bowser]; I urge you to share your disappointment [with] her [and] GM/CEO Sarles as they make improvements.”

Bowser, in addition to representing the District government on Metro’s board of directors, is also running for Gray’s job. Gray is still deciding whether he will pursue a second term, but it would appear from this instance that he is at least interested in disrupting the field.

As for those needed improvements, Stessel said the brake malfunction that caused this morning’s delays stemmed from a systemwide overhaul of rail cars’ brake systems. Stessel compared the timeline for this process to a recent overhaul of rail car doors that took nearly two years to complete.

“I’m not suggesting brakes will be less or more,” he said. But if Gray’s Twitter commentary is any evidence, Metro delays now come with political feuds.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.