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How DC Runs DC

One week ago, the nation’s capital was paralyzed by just a few inches of snow. Every roadway faced major delays with DC residents unable to get to work, home, and more importantly, to a hospital in case of emergency. This is common any time there’s anything resembling a weather emergency. One conservative, the MRC’s Scooter Schaefer, took a photo of the traffic map during his morning commute to highlight just how slow moving the roads were:

This is what 3 inches of snow does to the D.C. Metro area.

A photo posted by Scooter Schaefer (@scooterschaefer) on

Even on cold days (which by the standards of most of the country weren’t even that cold) schools were canceled or delayed in advance.

The worst example of DC’s inability to govern itself, though, comes out of the city’s public transit system. There’s a must-read Twitter account (and blog), @unsuckdcmetro, which chronicles life in the nation’s capital for those who take the trains or buses. It’s not pretty: Bus drivers kicking children off their buses on their way school, leaving them to shiver on strangers’ doorsteps in freezing cold temperatures; Metro refusing to apologize for closing the doors on strollers, separating mothers from their babies; threatening to arrest any rider who takes evacuation from a disabled train upon themselves. It is with the latter incident in mind that one has to look at what occurred during last night’s commute on the DC metro system, in which a woman died and several others were hospitalized in critical condition.

smoke in metro

CityLab has a breakdown of last night’s events and several others that led up to it:

A woman died after a southbound Yellow Line train got stuck in a smoke-filled tunnel just outside the L’Enfant Plaza Metrorail station in Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon. At least two others were critically injured, plus dozens more sent to area hospitals.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the precise source of such heavy smoke (though Metro has a recent history of winter weather-related arcing insulators causing smoke), and why it reportedly took 40 minutes for the train to begin to be evacuated. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Metropolitan Police Department are both investigating.

Keep in mind it’s been less than six years since the Red Line crash of June, 2009,in which nine people were killed and dozens more injured when two trains collided just as rush hour was about to begin. The human toll of that tragedy has been a hard thing for the city to forget, not least because it led the transit agency to impose manual train control throughout the entire rail system (the NTSB eventually ruled that faulty automatic train control signals and a culture of neglect inside WMATA were to blame for the crash). Every herky-jerky stop and start since has been a daily reminder of the transit agency’s failures. Automatic train control has only begun to be reintroduced, in a small part of the system, as of a few months ago.

There have been plenty of scandals since, like a rash of worker injuries and deaths. In 2013, passengers trapped in a tunnel on a stalled Green Line train endured hours of chaos and panic before they were evacuated, and the NTSB was critical of a “lack of sufficient information aboard the incident trains” in that case. There have also been more mundane annoyances: epic rush-hour delays for days in a row; seemingly endless escalator repair projects and outages; and five-plus years of weekend track work service interruptions that at one point prompted the Washington Post‘s editorial board to demand an answer to if and when “normal” service would ever return to the region.

For anyone who rides the Metro regularly or who knows anyone that does, this death is sadly not surprising, even if it is unbelievably tragic. The system is breaking down to such a degree that it’s making international news. Liberals might point to the situation and claim it’s part of a pattern of infrastructural neglect. Those who follow the DC system’s malfunctions, like the anonymous individual in charge of @unsuckdcmetro, disagree. One Twitter user suggested throwing more money into the system, but @unsuckdcmetro countered:

Couple pension obligations with a union that promotes incompetence, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, which occurred last night. If left unchanged, which it most certainly will be, given what has occurred on the Metro since just last night (service to the station was restored without a cause of fire determined, doors on moving trains opening at random), this won’t be the last death the system sees.

If this is how DC runs DC, imagine how your hometown would fare with these bureaucrats in charge from afar.

Would you want to visit DC given the state of the city’s infrastructure?