Track work: it happens everywhere

In keeping with the new approach to track work previously announced, yesterday WMATA released a one year look-ahead for track work and station closures on the Metrorail system. As outlined when the scheme was announced, these are complete closures. No trains will operate through the affected areas, and shuttle buses will provide replacement service. Many of the closures are related to the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, and involve closing the Orange Line between East Falls Church and West Falls Church. Some of the closures are more extensive, such as between L’Enfant Plaza and Southern Ave., Glenmont and Fort Totten, and Pentagon City and King Street (not all on the same weekend, obviously).

In related news, London Underground issued another announcement yesterday concerning the impending suspension of the District and Circle lines between High Street Kensington and Edgware Road from July 23 to August 23. This four-week closure will permit substantial infrastructure upgrades: track renewal, including drainage improvements and power upgrades to support new rolling stock.

However, unlike WMATA, London Underground will not run any dedicated shuttles. The affected by the closure are all in Zone 1, an area well-served by Tube and local bus services. Many of the stations in the closed area are accessible from multiple lines, and at those stations, only the platforms for the District and Circle lines will be closed. For the remaining stations, passengers will be able to use nearby Tube stations and local bus services.

Already, complaints have begun to come in about WMATA’s new approach. But the reality is that these kinds of closures, both on Metrorail and the London Underground, are vital. Both systems have suffered from periods of underinvestment and decay, and now they need major overhaul in order to attain a state of good repair. For Metrorail riders, the situation is worse, because the Metrorail system doesn’t offer the same kind of redundancy as the Tube. WMATA generally has no choice but to run shuttle buses, and riders loathe shuttle buses. At the same time, the work must be done. For better or worse, the periods around holidays often have lower ridership than usual for the Metrorail system, and are ideal for performing track work which requires a major closure.

While the closures on Metrorail are nowhere near as long as the impending four-week closure on the Tube, they both espouse the same philosophy: closing an entire line or portion of a line makes it easier, safer, and faster to perform needed work. Maintaining some level of service, whether by single-tracking on Metrorail, or limiting work to weekend closures on the Tube, causes the work (some of it safety-critical) to take far longer. In the case of the Tube, for example, the upcoming four-week closure of portions of the District and Circle lines “would otherwise have required at least 20 weekends of disruption spread across six months or more”. Single-tracking through work areas on Metrorail also exposes track workers to greater risk; closing both tracks increases worker safety and allows them to work more efficiently.

These types of closures may be disruptive, but they are vitally necessary in order to maintain a state of good repair, and enable safe and efficient operation in the years to come.