WASHINGTON—As it struggles with issues ranging from passenger safety to aging infrastructure to cash flow, Metro is rolling out a new sustainability agenda designed to reduce its carbon footprint and soften its environmental impact.
Released earlier this month, the agenda builds on last year’s version and updates 2014’s Sustainability Initiative, which focused on 10 targets in seven areas: ridership, climate change, energy, greenhouse gas and renewable energy, water, stormwater, and waste and supply chain.
The 2015 version emphasizes Metro’s increased efforts to cut costs and save energy while also including the sustainability progress the agency made during the last year.
The Sierra Club’s D.C. chapter board chair Matt Gravatt praised Metro’s approach to the new initiative. “We’re very supportive of the Metro Momentum plan, and we think they’ve really thought out of the box,” he said.
This push for more sustainable transit and technology falls under Metro’s Momentum strategic plan, which lays out goals for 2025. Unanimously approved by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board in 2013, Momentum focuses on initiatives that include bus fleet expansion, eight-car trains during peak periods and new connections on the Blue Line.
Although one of Metro’s most aggressive goals is a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025, its GHG emissions per vehicle mile remained static from 2013 to 2014.
In 2014, 477 million passengers rode Metrobus and Metrorail, but Metrorail ridership decreased by 1 percent, according to the new agenda.
“I think at the core fundamentally we look at it this way: the more people that ride public transportation, the better,” Gravatt said. “The more people that ride Metro, the greater our ability to reduce carbon emissions.”
Metro’s greenhouse gas displacement also suffered a decline of 7 percent, which it blames on service increases such as the Silver Line.
With a 2025 target of 15 percent reduction in energy use per vehicle mile, Metro’s newest agenda affirms that its 2 percent decrease in energy use per vehicle mile in 2014 positively positions the agency to achieve its goal.
Due to stricter requirements from the Maryland Department of the Environment as part of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, Metro built a new water treatment facility at the Largo pumping station.
The building helps prevent three tons of carbon emissions annually and treats the equivalent of 15 Olympic-sized pools of water system-wide each week, according to the 2015 agenda. It also features rooftop solar panels that supply extra electricity during the day while a green roof reduces stormwater runoff.
Metro’s plans for the next year include station lighting upgrades, cost-effective renewable power contracts and a rollout of equipment that uses train-braking energy. While 2014’s agenda focused on statistics and number-based information, 2015’s agenda is text-heavy and focuses on the continuation of plans already in place.
“Metro has to make very conscious decisions about replacing the trains, repairing and making sure that the lines and rails and tracks themselves are up to safety specifications, and that’s a pretty significant burden,” Gravatt said.
The 48-year-old transit agency’s plans correspond with other changes, such as the rollout of new train cars and the reintroduction of computer-controlled trains.
In April, Metro debuted the first train from its newest purchase: the 7000-series rail cars, which have enhanced safety feature and more technological advances. The rail cars meet the latest fire safety standards, uphold improved crashworthiness standards and have digital video surveillance systems.
The cars are sleekly redesigned to include non-slip floors, lumbar-support, vinyl-covered seats and LCD maps to help passengers track their trip.
Metro bought 528 of the new cars, which will be built at the Kawasaki Motors plant in Nebraska. The additions will increase the total number of cars by 128 and completely replace the aging fleet of 1000- and 4000-series cars.
Automatic train operation (ATO) made its return to Metro in early April after $18 million in engineering work to redesign the system. Metro has not used ATO in six years, after a Red Line train using the system crashed and killed nine people.
The 2009 fatal crash is one of the host of problems Metro has faced and currently faces, ranging from daily transit annoyances to leadership rifts and major rail and bus incidents.
Since January, Metro has taken hit after hit, starting with the fatal L’Enfant Plaza station smoke incident and going to the most recent vote by the House Appropriations Committee to cut WMATA’s funding.
One person was killed and more than 80 were hospitalized during the smoke incident near the L’Enfant Plaza station on Jan. 12, which has resulted in an extensive investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Meanwhile, rifts among board members have delayed the search for a permanent chief executive while Jack Requa serves in the interim.
Despite its woes, Metro remains vital to a region that was ranked No. 1 as the most congested metropolitan area in the United States in 2013 by a Texas A&M Transportation Institute report.
Without Metro, five additional lanes would be required on all Potomac River crossings, according to Metro’s 2014 sustainability agenda. The same agenda also asserts that Metro saves families $342 million per year through reduced car dependency.