Autoload for SmarTrip, return to ATO, and more

Yesterday I attended a blogger roundtable with WMATA’s new General Manager and CEO, Richard Sarles, as well as the monthly Riders’ Advisory Council meeting. The predominant topic at the blogger roundtable was the Metro Transit Police Department’s bag search program, which continues despite objections from riders and civil liberties groups. Sarles’ chief argument in favor of the bag searches is that they are claimed by counterterrorism experts to provide a deterrent effect, by disrupting predictable routines which terrorists may have incorporated into their plans. Sarles also cited the successful programs conducted by the PAPD on the PATH rail system and by the NYPD on the New York City subway. Mr. Sarles also took questions from RAC members at that evening’s meeting; one important question was posed by RAC member Chris Schmitt on the issue of returning to automatic train operation (which was suspended immediately following the 2009 Red Line crash). As Unsuck DC Metro reports, Sarles’ answer is (in short) that WMATA must first complete its program of track circuit replacement, as well as have an outside safety and risk analysis performed before automatic operation will return. The risk analysis is expected to be done by early 2012 at the latest, and while track circuit replacement is continuing on the Red Line, that work has yet to be started on the rest of the rail system.

The RAC meeting also featured a presentation from WMATA’s CFO, Carol Dillon-Kissal, on WMATA’s budget for FY2012. One piece of information that came from that presentation, though not directly related to the budget, is that autoload and online reload for SmarTrip cards is now envisioned to be available in June. I don’t consider that to be a firm committment or formal announcement, but it is still an encouraging sign, particularly given that it’s functionality that many riders have been eagerly awaiting for some time now.