Adventures on the Washington Metro

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This is my second day in a 5-day visit in Washington, D.C. where I attend the 89th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Academy of Engineering.

I decided to introduce Metro to my family so they can visit the Capital Mall, the Smithsonian and other fine museums while I am at the conference.


You will not believe the state of disrepair of this well-over 10-billion dollar public investment. Our station is more than four stories deep into the ground but the ADA-mandated elevators do not work. People who cannot ride the 3 minute long steep escalator have to wait for buses to take them to other stations.

None of the elevators in the platform of our station were working. They were closed with long messages about “pardon our appearance” followed by specific messages of when the improvements will be completed. Yet there were stickers on the original dates extending the delivery of the fix to February 2010.

On the way back from Metro Center, half of the Red line is single tracked for “scheduled maintenance”. Those who go to near destinations have trains every five minutes. Those who go to far destinations have trains every 15 minutes.

It is 28F today in DC and the stations are very cold. Waiting a few minutes with a baby in the cold is very uncomfortable. Waiting at the Kapolei and other leeward stations in the summer will be similarly uncomfortable. And if you pile up the walk, elevator, escalator, ticketing and wait times, plus transfers to buses, the door to door travel time by mass transit is twice the travel time by car. That’s what the U.S. Census reports for 2000.

The condition of the Metro is only a small and sad indication that the nation is broke and its transportation is in distress. Having the Metro in such disrepair and at the same time handing out billions to Honolulu for its ridiculous 20 mile train to suburbia is very bad public policy.

In most U.S. urban areas metro rail is too inconvenient, too expensive and too unproductive. The sunny and touristy city of Miami’s rail system is an example of all these negative outcomes combined. The single rail line in the 2.2 million population San Juan in Puerto Rico is another example of negative outcomes. Honolulu hopefully won’t become the next victim of misguided planning and political ambition.

‘Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD is a Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He blogs at and can be reached at’