The entire Baltimore Metro Subway will reopen Friday morning, three days earlier than expected, after a nearly one-month shutdown for emergency track repairs that officials said couldn’t wait until summer.
Trains will resume operations at 5 a.m. Friday on the 15.5-mile rail system, which runs above ground from Owings Mills to Mondawmin and underground between Mondawmin and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Service will be free from Friday through Sunday, the Maryland Transit Administration said, “as a thank you to our riders for their patience.”
“We replaced all the rail that the train runs on, in all the curves that were showing wear,” MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn said. “We’ve done thorough safety testing, and we can assure folks that it is safe. Folks can expect a smoother, faster ride.”
The MTA announced the resumption of service Thursday as the the state House of Delegates approved legislation, spurred in part by the shutdown, that would increase funding for the MTA, both for operations and capital improvements.
The unexpected shutdown was announced with less than 24 hours’ notice on Feb. 11, after safety evaluations of the tracks showed some sections were too worn to operate trains safely.
Since then, crews replaced the rails on 11 curves in the aboveground section of track and two curves underground, Quinn said. The MTA also cleaned its metro stations and railcars, he said.
The final cost of the repairs was not available; MTA estimates had placed it at about $1.5 million. Gov. Larry Hogan also set aside $2.2 million in emergency funding to run free coach buses for passengers in the interim.
The Metro moves an average of 17,000 daily weekday riders, and roughly 7,500 per day on the weekends.
MTA, Federal Transit Administration and federal State Safety Oversight program inspectors walked the tracks and studied the entire system before deciding to reopen it, Quinn said.
Amid criticism for the sudden shutdown last month, the MTA requested an outside peer review of its handling of the maintenance issues. The MTA also is reviewing its inspection program to find out why the metro’s tracks were allowed to violate the agency’s own safety standards for more than a year, Quinn said Thursday.
“We’re doing a full internal review, taking a look at all of the processes and procedures around inspections and standards,” Quinn said.
Eric Norton, policy director for the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, said the rider advocacy group hopes the MTA will publicly release the results of both reviews.
“There are still some outstanding questions about how we got to this point and how it went from ‘normal wear and tear’ to an emergency shutdown,” Norton said. “I don’t know if that’s been fully answered.”
Baltimore-area lawmakers tacked the funding increases for MTA onto a bill providing an additional $150 million in annual funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates the capital’s bus system and trouble-plagued Metro. The House voted 98-40 to pass the bill.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has said he supports the amended legislation. Washington-area lawmakers were happy to include the MTA provisions, said Del. Marc Korman, who introduced the original bill providing the funding for Washington region’s transit agency.
“Why help one transit system when you can help multiple transit systems?” the Montgomery County Democrat said.
The legislation would require the governor to increase the MTA’s operating funds by at least 4.4 percent, beginning in the budget year that starts July 1, 2019. That funding level would continue for at least three years.
Critics have complained that the MTA’s funding was not keeping pace with increasing operating costs of about 6 percent to 7 percent a year.
It also would require the governor to appropriate at least $29.1 million for capital investments in each of the three years in addition to any money already in the Maryland Department of Transportation’s plans.
The additional spending would come out of the Transportation Trust Fund, which is financed mostly through title fees and taxes on gas and car sales.
The MTA also would have to conduct an audit of the condition of all of its capital assets, including its Baltimore-area buses, Metro rail cars and tracks, the Light Rail system and MARC locomotives and cars.
The bill calls for MTA to develop a comprehensive, 30-year plan for transit services in Central Maryland, including the city and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties — the first such comprehensive plan since 2002.
Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, led the effort.
“There are thousands of people who rely on MTA every day and we need to make sure we're supporting those residents,” Lierman said.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where the two Baltimore-area senators on the Budget & Taxation Committee, Nathaniel McFadden and Bill Ferguson, plan to propose the same amendments to the Senate version of the WMATA bill.
“First and foremost, it’s not a city issue,” Ferguson said. “MTA is a state agency and its footprint is all over the state.”
While the core of the MTA’s operations is in the Baltimore area, it also operates the MARC commuter rail system and commuter buses that serve the Washington region and outer suburban area.
Ferguson said the legislation addresses longstanding deficiencies in MTA funding.
“For the last several years it’s been flat-funded at a time when we know the needs have increased exponentially,” he said.
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, chairman of the Senate committee that will consider the bill, said he was not familiar with the House’s actions but would consider the amendments.
“It might be a good idea,” the Howard County Democrat said.
Quinn highlighted plans to spend $400 million to replace the MTA’s old metro railcars with 78 new ones in 2020, Quinn said.
No new issues arose during the most recent track inspections, Quinn said. Additional sections of track — straightaways, not curves — still need to be replaced as scheduled in August, but the MTA hopes to do it over weekends and by single-tracking trains, to avoid a second shutdown, Quinn said.
“We still have some rail replacement to do,” he said. “Right now we’re really evaluating what that summer work is going to be.”
David McClure, president of the union that represents the MTA’s transit operators, was encouraged by Quinn’s actions and thinks the system will be safe to ride Friday. But, he said, the union was not invited to review the repairs.
“We’re still very concerned at this point,” said McClure, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300. “We have not had the opportunity to go through and see whether the work was actually completed.”