APTA | Passenger Transport
July 6, 2009

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WMATA Collision Spurs Talks on Infrastructure Investment
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

The June 22 fatal rail accident on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Red Line has sparked renewed discussion and debate about the need for increased federal investment to keep our nation’s public transportation infrastructure in a state of good repair, particularly as systems age.

While approximately $60 billion annually from all sources is necessary to cover infrastructure requirements, only $14.5 billion of that is currently being spent. This situation applies to transit agencies across the country, many of which are experiencing strained budgets.

“We have known for some time that our public transportation infrastructure and rolling stock are in a general state of disrepair for lack of funding,” said James L. Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which has begun crafting a new surface transportation authorization bill that would provide nearly $100 billion over the next six years to help bring transit systems into a state of good repair. It would also provide $50 billion for mobility improvement projects in major metropolitan areas.

“We cannot afford to wait while our transit systems deteriorate further, perhaps leading to more tragedies as we saw on Metro,” he said, adding: “We must act and act quickly to get transit back on track.”

Discussion has also focused on the importance of local funding. For years, WMATA has called for a local dedicated funding source, saying it is the largest system in the U.S. without such monetary support. Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who tried to bring about increased Metro funding before retiring last year, noted that the agency has not had the necessary funding for a decade.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is continuing its investigation to determine why the trains collided, with the stationary train stopped between the Fort Totten Station in Northeast Washington, DC, and the Takoma Station near the District-Maryland line. Nine people died in this accident, including one train operator; more than 70 people were injured.

NTSB is examining every aspect of the accident, including the automatic train control system; braking system; actions of the operators; and crashworthiness of the vehicles.

Hilton Hotels Reach Out to Victims’ Families

As family members arrive for services for the victims of the Metro accident, Hilton Hotels is working with WMATA to coordinate rooms and hotels to accommodate them.

“This calamity affected all of us,” said Dorothy L. Capson, director of sales-Worldwide Accounts for Hilton Hotels. The metropolitan DC area is home to nine Hilton Family hotels, and several—including Hilton Alexandria Old Town in Alexandria, VA, and the Capital Hilton and Hilton Washington, both in downtown—have already offered complimentary rooms for immediate family members, including grandparents. For other family members, or if not enough comped rooms are available, Capson said the hotels will offer special “Friends and Family” rates.

To ensure that families are housed in hotels near where services will take place, she said: “As soon as we receive the names and dates, then I will pair them up with the hotels so it’s a good geographical fit.”

Added Utah-based Capson: “I’m an avid Metro fan and I use it whenever I come to DC. So to me, those were my ‘fellow commuters.’”

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