The Washington, D.C. Metro Red line is set to halt service between the Silver Spring and Fort Totten stations in Maryland from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10 for a second round of major planned track maintenance this year.
The improvement project will cut service on the easternmost end of the Red line, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority’s oldest and most used rail route. The line will operate in segments from the westernmost Shady Grove station to Fort Totten in the east, with a shuttle providing service from Fort Totten to Silver Spring.
Additionally, from Dec. 2 to Dec. 3, work will extend to the end of the Red Line in Glenmont. The Glenmont, Wheaton, Forest Glen, Silver Spring and Takoma stations will all be closed during this weekend.
WMATA warned passengers to expect delays and crowding. The closures will affect students using the Red line at Dupont Circle, and restrict students who wish to travel to downtown D.C. to using the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines that run through the Rosslyn station.
Four miles of track from Silver Spring to Fort Totten will see repairs and replacement in these repairs, replacing an interlocking, a part of the track where trains can cross from one track to another.
Metro also plans to install new sections of track and rail ties and update signals.
The work is scheduled to begin the Saturday following Thanksgiving and continue through early December, a time period typically characterized by lower ridership due to the holidays. In 2016, ridership peaked in the summer months before falling to its low in December, according to Metro’s Vital Signs Report for the first quarter of 2017.
The upcoming Red line project is one of WMATA’s 2017 Back2Good initiatives, which also include retiring old trains and rolling out more new 7000 Series trains, improving station management and maintaining escalators.
“Preventive maintenance is the anti-SafeTrack that prevents emergency conditions and will begin to cut infrastructure related delays to trains in half,” WMATA CEO Paul Wiedefeld said in a Dec. 2016 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets.
In the past, Metro often put off maintenance — a practice that has become increasingly unsustainable as the 50-year-old system has aged.
Metro’s infrastructure woes came to the fore in 2009, when nine people died and 80 were injured after a Red line train collided with a stationary train on the southbound track between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found significant structural problems in the Automatic Train Control system and the track circuits monitoring activity on the rail lines.
Near collisions occurred in 2005 on the Blue line between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom due to similar problems, and an investigation of the 2016 derailment of a train near East Falls Church station found Metro had neglected repairs of rail ties and tracks in the time leading up to the event.
The work will take place over 10 working — and commuting — days, as well as two weekends, and the closures are expected to affect thousands of passengers.
Takoma station, which will be closed for all service during the work, has an average of 5,108 passenger boardings per weekday so far this year, according to the 2017 Historical Metro Ridership report.
“Customers who normally use Takoma, Silver Spring, Forest Glen, Wheaton or Glenmont are strongly encouraged to use other Red Line stations, travel during off-peak times or consider alternate travel options,” a Nov. 2 Metro news release said.
These stations are all north of Fort Totten on the Red Line, and those hoping to travel further into Washington, D.C., than Fort Totten will need to make use of the shuttles or use other transportation.
This work is part of planned preventative work following a year of updates to the Metro system through the SafeTrack program. SafeTrack compressed three years’ worth of updates into one year, as part of Wiedefeld’s “Back2Good” agenda, announced in 2016 when he took over, to repair the rail service and renew trust in the system.
“That has to come to an end,” Wiedefeld said in a June interview with The New York Times. “You could get away with it when you were a 20-, 25-year-old system. Going into your 40s and 50s, you can’t do that anymore.”
Now, after 15 “surges” to repair parts of the rail service in most need of attention, Metro’s Back2Good strategy is focused on preventative maintenance.
Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of WMATA, told The New York Times. In the same article, Evans said the completion of SafeTrack repairs marked success in saving WMATA from collapse.
“We saved the patient from dying,” Evans said. “The patient is still very, very sick.”