Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fire! Fire!

So I'm quite certain I wasn't the only one who felt like I was placing my life in significant jeopardy by boarding a Metro train this morning. In case you missed it, Metro experienced more problems last night, with smoke emanating from several stations and forcing the closure of portions of the Yellow and Blue lines. This after significant amounts of smoke and other mechanical problems forced the closure of a freakishly high six stations on Sunday evening. Of course, as we're taught since kindergarten, where there's smoke there's fire.

Metro manager John B. Catoe called the events "baffling" and openly questionned whether it could be the work of sabotage or terrorism. It was also postulated that a power surge perhaps led to the problems with the third rail, but there's very little evidence to support any theory. I'll put forth another, more likely--and less onerous--theory:

Metro is getting old and quickly deteriorating. Additionally, Metro ridership is increasing every year, and Metro is coming closer and closer to exceeding the maximum daily ridership the system was built to handle back in the late 60s and early 70s. As this happens, the infrastructure begins crumbling, and more and more mechanical problems will crop up. Small problems which, ten years ago, would barely have registered as a disruption now cause the entire system to stutter to a halt.

I could write a treatise on the need for federal, state and local governments to better fund public and mass transit, and about how Metro's lack of dedicated funding, coupled with a woeful lack of long term strategy and sustainable planning has led to problems such as what has been experienced over the past couple of days. Instead, I'll only say this: so long as Metro funding remains a delicate issue, and Metro continues its reactive--rather than proactive--approach to maintenance and growth planning, I believe problems such as these will become increasingly common. It should come as no great surprise to anyone that a system carrying as many people as Metro does, but as significantly underfunded as Metro is, encounters these issues with increasing frequency.

So, be careful out there. And the next time you smell that acrid, burning electrical smell in a Metro station, you might want to head for higher ground. And perhaps consider taking a cab.

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