Managers at Metro say their decision on how to cope with widespread water intrusion problems at three Red Line stations is months away. At least one official in Montgomery County worries that one possible solution may be a plan to shut down three miles of the Red Line for up to six weeks.
Managers at Metro took a one-year look at the problems of arcing of the system's electrical insulators. They found that 40% of the arcing was coming from less than 3% of the system's tracks. That 3% was the tracks that run between Friendship Heights, Bethesda, and Medical Center stations on the Red Line.
The problem: water intrusion into the stations. The steel rails at (and in between) those stations are wearing out more rapidly than average. Switches there also get covered with mud, and, says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel, "Water conducts electricity. And as that moist, damp environment starts interfacing with the components of the third rail -- the electrified third rail -- that results in arcing insulators."
Metro is just beginning to explore the possibility of retrofitting these stations with some kind of exterior "sleeve" that would stop the water from coming in. That would be a huge engineering project that might require an extended shutdown of that three mile section of the Red Line.
That got the attention of Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D): "It is certainly something that they appear to be considering which raised my eyebrows, needless to say: six weeks of shutting down the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Medical Center would not be a good thing for our community, for our economy, for our quality of life."
Metro, of course, could organize a frequent-service "bus bridge" on that three mile stretch, and most rail passengers we spoke with said they would grudgingly live with it.
One man riding on the Red Line shook his head and told us: "I would not drive. I would not drive. I'll do the Metro bus thing -- whatever it takes -- but I'm not going to drive."
Councilman Berliner, however, worries that some passengers would go back to driving, and they might never come back to Metrorail. Berliner wants a long-time shutdown of the Red Line to be the last possible alternative. Metro officials basically agree.
Metro's spokesman says there will be five or six months of engineering work before any decision is made on how to tackle the water-intrusion problem.
Stessel promises local officials -- and passengers -- will be consulted before any final decision is made. He also estimated that the actual engineering "fix" for the problem could be one to two years away.