WASHINGTON, D.C. – Metro’s Board of Directors voted unanimously on May 23 to give the general manager and his designee authority to buy property in Landover for a future maintenance facility.
Metro staff wrote in a memorandum for the meeting that construction of the facility, called the Rail Heavy Repair and Overhaul Facility, would speed up long-term maintenance on railcars. Expediting the maintenance would lead to a reduced number of service delays that are related to problems with the trains.
A recent “rail yard study” determined that daily maintenance and overhaul maintenance together were too much to fill the Greenbelt and Brentwood railyards. Moving the cars requiring overhaul maintenance to the proposed new facility would free up space for railcars requiring daily maintenance.
Storage in the Greenbelt and Brentwood facilities was designed for six cars. The release of newer four-car trains has made the space to hold two additional cars generally wasted. The new storage facility, which is part of the project, would be built to store the more modern railcars in two groups of four.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said having overhaul maintenance not located with routine maintenance would make the overhaul maintenance more efficient.
The proposed Rail Heavy Repair and Overhaul Facility would improve efficiency “because the current (rail) yards that we’re trying to do that in are too tight,” said Wiedefeld. “So, we’re doing daily maintenance, and we’re trying to do this long-haul, long-term maintenance (…) So it’s much more efficient, cost-effective to get that (in) one location.”
Wiedefeld estimated that overhauls occur every 15 or 20 years during the life of the train cars.
The proposed Rail Heavy Repair and Overhaul Maintenance Facility would be located at 3636 Pennsy Drive in Landover. The new facility project will cost an estimated $300 million to $400 million, Metro officials said.
However, Metro does not own the property on which staff has recommended constructing the facility. Three properties now occupy the space the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) desires for the overhaul maintenance.
Wiedefeld must receive the board of directors’ permission before he negotiates a business deal or acquires a property that would cost more than $1 million, according to a Metro Board resolution. Construction of the new facility and the way Metro plans to use it would require a change to what Metro officials call the Mass Transit Plan.
According to WMATA’s Compact, which governs Metro, any changes to the Mass Transit Plan must be preceded by a public hearing. The staff must then inform “certain enumerated agencies” of the proposed changes. The public hearing occurred on March 19.
Metro staff selected the property on 3636 Pennsy Drive from a list of properties, including another Pennsy Drive location, based on eight factors.
As a result of the unanimous vote, Wiedefeld and his designee may seek a business deal to purchase the land. The board must approve the staff’s report on the public hearing and the proposed changes to the Mass Transit Plan to include the facility.
Before the full board vote, the Metro board heard from a Washington, D.C.-area attorney Michael Coughlin, who represents one of the businesses where the new facility would be located. He asserted that construction of the heavy rail maintenance facility would be an inconvenience to his clients, who are leasing space in one of the three properties.
“I’m an attorney here on behalf of Iron Mountain; they’re a tenant at 3636 Pennsy Drive,” Coughlin said. “They will be displaced by the heavy repair facility. They currently lease 137,000 square feet, and in that space they store approximately 900,000 boxes that attorneys have given them of files and other materials.”
Coughlin estimated that transferring the boxes of documents to a new location would take two and a half years. During the discussion about the resolution, Virginia board member Christian Dorsey asked why the staff chose to deliver a public presentation on how Metro intends to use the property. Metro must comply with federal and environmental regulations, which include specifying the properties it wants to purchase.
“Why are we outlining our intent to purchase property before we have negotiated the terms of the purchase?” Dorsey asked. “Typically, those would be, you know, done not in the public sphere, and we’d consider the actions once those deals have been negotiated.”
The resolution took effect following the unanimous approval of the full board.
During the meeting, Board Chairman and D.C. Councilmember (D-Ward 2) Jack Evans swore in new board member Thomas Graham as a non-voting board member to represent Prince George’s County.
Graham takes the place of Malcolm Augustine, recently elected as a Maryland state senator, who, by state law, is no longer permitted to be on the board.
Voting member Clarence Crawford, who represents Maryland, will be replaced by Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn, or Rahn’s designee, upon the conclusion of Crawford’s term at the end of June.
The State recently pass legislation that one of the voting board members representing Maryland must be the secretary or his designee that must be an employee of the Maryland Department of Transportation.