Monday, June 4, 2012

Note From AFA President -- Washington DC Metro

Two weeks ago at a meeting at a think-tank, I sat next to a person who was on the Board of the Washington DC Metro. I asked him what issues the Metro was facing … and he said: “The system opened 36 years ago this year; it needs to be modernized; and our #1 challenge is to keep it in operation, while at the same time, replacing and repairing major segments of its system.

I asked one of our staff members to do some research on the system (thanks, Merri) – and I pulled a number of facts about the system from a dozen or so articles. What will strike most of you is what I noticed … that the Air Force’s fleet of aircraft is, in many ways, similar to this aging system … with the exception that when something breaks on Metro, the train doesn’t work … or the doors don’t open. The passengers don’t get to work on time; or the tourists miss part of their schedule at the Smithsonian. However, when an aircraft stops running … it usually crashes … and this has rippling effects on our ability to protect our national security interests.

For your consideration.


Michael M. Dunn
Air Force Association

"The only thing more expensive than a first-rate Air Force is … a second-rate Air Force." -- Senate staff member


“Much of MetroRail was built between 1970 and 1990. … The $11B in capital needs are driven by a number of factors, including the age and condition of Metro’s assets. The 30-year old … system requires many life cycle replacement costs for the first time, including the replacement of nearly one-third of the rail car fleet.” [Comment: This would replace mostly the older rail cars built in the 1970s. We should remember the B-52s and KC-135s were built in the 1960s … and many of the C-5s, F-15s, F-16s, C-130s, A-10s, and others were built in the 1970s]

“Metro’s fleet consists of 1126 rail cars … Trains have a maximum speed of 75 mph and average 33 mph … Operating rules [read “restrictions”] presently limit their top speed to 59 mph.” [Comment: This is a decision the AF faces at every turn: How much to restrict the operational capability of its various aircraft due to age and other factors.]

“Metro has had chronic problems with its escalators for decades. A Metro official said 75 percent of the system’s escalators are more than 25 years old and parts can be difficult to find because some of the manufactures have gone out of business. … It’s like having a 1972 car and you’re trying to keep it running with parts that may be hard to find … [Comment: This is for an escalator!!! Think about the AF problem with much older systems built in much fewer quantities …] The escalators rise 85 feet [into the air and] … a manager said these escalators are the highest rise escalators ever manufactured at [the main plant]. … This isn’t just buying a part off the shelf at home Depot and sticking it in place.” [Comment: This is juxtaposed against systems that operate much, much higher, much faster, and are much older …]

“A case in point is the elevators and escalators, some of whose manufacturers are out-of-business requiring expensive consultants or wholesale replacement.” [Comment: similar to the AF.]

“It’s a problem they face every day at Dupont Circle station, where the south entrance remains closed for more than eight months while contractors replace the unreliable escalators there. … some riders believe the $12 million project … isn’t being done as efficiently as possible. … It’s unbelievable to take eight months to … replace those at Dupont.” [Comment: our national security needs cannot afford to be without air and space power for eight months. Think about having no GPS signals for that long.]

It’s a disaster when escalators at one open entrance stop working because the station is about 130 feet underground. Metro has been urging some passengers to avoid Dupont [Metro station] altogether and use Farragut North station instead.” [Comment: This is similar to saying: “Let’s avoid using Airpower in Afghanistan … instead use it elsewhere.]

Metro requires 860 cars during peak hours. During non-rush hours, it needs 372 cars. It also aims for a 20% spare ratio. This means it needs a 76% Mission Capable (MC) rate during rush hour … and a 33% MC rate for the bulk of the day. [paraphrased] [Comment: Most AF maintenance officers and NCOs could manage a 33% MC rate in their sleep. Their requirement is for much, much higher rates.]

“Metro is working over the next two years to upgrade software, replace spindles and do other work on the doors in its fleet … After a while, … it’s the wear and tear. Stuff just wears out. Doors are a headache.” [Comment: If it wears out on a system that is 30 years old, think about the impact on 50 year old systems … that operate at extreme heat and cooling conditions.]

1 comment:

Ross Lampert said...

4Mike, your comments are all technically correct but miss the essential point: when a part of the Metro breaks down, it has an immediate, visible, and personal impact on the many thousands of people who use the system every day. And it probably gets coverage in the DC media, too, for an extended period of time. If a single B-52, or even the whole BUFF fleet, was grounded, how many DC or New York or LA residents would be aware of, much less care about, that fact? Darn few unless their personal security was at immediate—and immediately apparent—risk.

So here’s the thing: until and unless we can get at least some ordinary citizens outside our “choir” to take a personal interest in our aging fleet—while they’re dealing with a lousy economy, maybe a lost job, a lost home, lost dreams, etc.—we’re just talking in the echo chamber. WE get it, but it’s all remote and theoretical to that Wal-Mart clerk in Walla Walla, Washington.