MTA chief on how agency can do better with snow

Improved communication is at the top of Wells' list

  • Ralign Wells has dealt with three major snows since being named chief of the Maryland Transit Administration.
Ralign Wells has dealt with three major snows since being named… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
February 23, 2010|By Michael Dresser |

If Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign Wells could do the last couple of weeks over again, he'd do a few things differently.

In an interview Monday about the agency's performance during the twin snowstorms that blanketed Baltimore early this month, Wells said that he is proud of the way his employees met the challenge of keeping most of the region's transit running except at the height of the snowfall.

Wells, who rose from the ranks of bus operator to land the job of MTA administrator last fall, said the agency's primary lapses involved getting accurate information to its customers. In some cases, he acknowledged, the MTA made announcements about its service that it couldn't deliver on.

"We should have communicated better," he said.

Wells said the service that was most affected by the snow - particularly the second storm that hit four days after the first - was the section of the Metro that runs aboveground between Mondawmin Mall and Owings Mills. That service took about a week to restore, and even after trains began running the full length of the lines, there were prolonged delays.

According to the administrator, part of the third rail that powers the trains was buried by the fast-falling snow. He said the lines could not be cleared with a plow and had to be chipped out by hand by a team of laborers. When the MTA tried to run trains over the rails, the "collector shoes" that carry power to the trains were repeatedly breaking off, he said.

Wells said that in retrospect, the MTA should have run trains every three to four minutes to keep the tracks clear - even if they ran without passengers. As it was, he said, trains ran every 11 to 14 minutes - allowing the snow to accumulate.

While the aboveground Metro was out of commission, the MTA announced a shuttle bus service to take its place. But in some cases, riders who boarded those buses weren't taken all the way to their destinations as operators seemed unsure about the route they were supposed to follow.

"I agree that the shuttle didn't do as well as it should have," Wells said.

He said the problems with the shuttle bus will be treated as one of the "lessons learned" from the snowstorms.

Another lesson, Wells said, is the need to forge a closer relationship with Baltimore County officials to deal with emergencies. He said that while the MTA worked closely with the State Highway Administration and the Baltimore Department of Transportation on issues such as clearing roads that are part of bus routes, there were lapses in communication with the county public works department. At one point, Wells said, the MTA had to divert one of its plows from clearing a Metro parking lot to digging out Old Court Road - a road in the county's jurisdiction - so buses could get through.

Wells said that in spite of the lapses, he appreciates the efforts put in by MTA operators and other employees who in many cases worked around the clock - getting what sleep they could at the workplace.

"Overall, we did a lot better than we would have expected," he said.

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