Off Track

Think about how it must feel to be one of the thousands of regular Light Rail users who are being inconvenienced by the MTA, and then find out the situation was avoidable almost a decade ago:

The current shutdown of half of Baltimore’s light rail line likely could have been prevented had Maryland Transit Administration engineers decided in 2000 to spend about $4 million on an electronic system designed to prevent trains from sliding on slippery tracks, according to a top MTA official.

Henry Kay, the MTA’s deputy administrator for planning and engineering, said that as a result of the decision, Maryland’s light rail is one of the few in the country without the so-called “slip-slide protection” to protect the wheels of its cars….

….Kay said there is no way now to quantify the cost of the decision in terms of lost service, additional maintenance, overtime and other expense. But he said there’s little question the MTA would have been better off had it invested in the technology, which would have roughly doubled the cost of a crash-avoidance system it did adopt.

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“That would have been $4 million well spent,” Kay said.

You bet it would have been money well spent. Between the cost to fix the cracked wheels, the diminished revenue from diminished light rail service availability, and the cost in both time and money to commuters who are having to deal in a variety of ways with the disruption of service, this snafu has cost the taxpayers of Maryland a hell of a lot more than $4 million would have.

The problem is that, more than likely, the same decision makers who made this decision back in 2000 are probably still on the job here in 2008. But that’s not even as big of a problem as the piecemeal way of addressing the problem that MTA Senior Leadership has demonstrated. Like all other aspects of transit planning in Baltimore, Paul Wiedefield and company have shown that they are not up to the task of running a safe, basic, and functioning mass transit operation.

While it is easy to see in hindsight that the failure to buy this system in 2000, we need to note this as a lesson learned and make sure that steps are taken to adequately plan for risk avoidance such as this for future projects. Unfortunately, I have no confidence in the O’Malley Administration and current MTA Senior Leadership to learn those lessons make such decisions with any competence…..


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