Runaway Train Debt

D.C. Metro in the red.


While many American subway systems have a hard time attracting riders, the D.C. Metro has a different problem: excessive popularity. With 700,000 daily riders, Metrorail is both overcrowded and, thanks to years of mismanagement, short on cash.

The 10 local governments that control Metro's funds are resisting the idea of rewarding poor management with more cash, but the feds may be swooping in to help. In August, Congress considered providing $1.5 billion to keep the system running, just weeks after The Washington Post revealed that officials had squandered about $1 billion in recent rail car and escalator contracts.

The system is literally falling apart: $383 million spent on new trains has produced cars that need repairs about as frequently as the old ones; escalators serviced for $93 million need fixing more often than the escalators that were left alone. Metro ignored the advice of an independent task force that concluded private businesses repaired the escalators faster and at a lower cost than agency employees, and the system's own safety specialists have regularly complained their warnings went unheeded in cases where they could have prevented derailments, fires, split tracks, and injured passengers.?