Metro mulls system changes

The Metro may add another rail line to alleviate rapidly increasing ridership, which officials attribute to rising gas prices and environmental concerns.

There will be almost 1 million Metro riders by 2030 – an increase of 42 percent from 2005, according to a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority study released this month. Metro officials said this swell in ridership prompts the need for systematic changes like a new line with a Georgetown stop, but that such a sweeping transformation would be difficult to implement.

“I don’t see anyone coming up seriously with the funds to do that,” said Chris Zimmerman, WMATA board of directors chairman. “You’re talking about a multi-billion dollar project to do tunneling under the city. That’s not going to make it into anyone’s ten-year plan anytime soon.”

Metro officials also proposed realigning the Blue Line, constructing pedestrian tunnels, converting to eight-car trains, increasing the number of escalators and stairways at core stations, expanding the region’s bus service and integrating planned streetcar and light-rail lines to supplement Metrorail capacity. The plans are not official, however, said Angela Gates, a WMATA spokesperson.

“(The board members) stressed that they really want to look at the different options that they have available before they decide on anything,” Gates said.

Increasing the capacity of Metro trains is much more pressing in the short term, Zimmerman said. He said more people are beginning to utilize public transportation systems due to rising gas prices and increasing traffic congestion, contributing to the Metro’s predicted growth rate.

The Metro has exhibited substantial growth, sometimes spiking at more than 800,000 daily riders, according to the study. Its highest point was 803,802 on April 23 – a 1 percent increase from the same day last year, the report said.

“The immediate thing is to get more money invested in railcars so we can raise the fleet,” Zimmerman said. “We’re going to need to add several more cars in the next 20 years. The old cars in the system are going to be reaching the end of their useful life and are going to need to be replaced.”

Zimmerman stressed that increasing the capability of the bus system is also important to alleviating strain on the Metro system, and discussed the possibility of creating dedicated highway lanes for buses to make it through traffic.

The board will continue planning meetings over the next few months to discuss and weigh all options before finalizing any plans.

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