Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority:

Actions Needed to Strengthen Capital Planning and Track Preventive Maintenance Program

GAO-19-202: Published: Jan 31, 2019. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2019.

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Mark Goldstein
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goldsteinm@gao.gov

 

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To address safety problems in the Washington, D.C., Metro rail system, Metro started a preventive track maintenance program in June 2017. The program aims to reduce service disruptions caused by track defects or electrical fires—which Metro says are the most significant safety risks.

While Metro reports making progress, it can't be sure that the program is designed effectively. For example, the program doesn't address non-electrical fires, which comprise 30% of all track fires.

We recommended a formal risk assessment, which would use data to assess safety and strategic risks to the program, such as ensuring adequate time for maintenance work.

 

A Washington, D.C. Metro train stopped at a platform.

A Washington, D.C. Metro train stopped at a platform.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Mark Goldstein
(202) 512-2834
goldsteinm@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

From fiscal years 2011 through 2017, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) spent almost $6 billion on a variety of capital assets, with the largest share spent on improving its rail and bus fleet (see figure). Over this period, WMATA's capital spending was, on average, about $845 million annually.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Capital Expenditures by Asset Category, in Current Dollar Values, Fiscal Years 2011 through 2017

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Capital Expenditures by Asset Category, in Current Dollar Values, Fiscal Years 2011 through 2017

WMATA's new capital planning process could address some weaknesses it identified in the prior process. WMATA established a framework for quantitatively prioritizing capital needs (investments to a group of related assets) over a 10-year period. However, WMATA has not established documented policies and procedures for implementing the new process, such as those for selecting specific projects for funding in its annual capital budget. WMATA is currently using its new capital planning process to make fiscal year 2020 investment decisions. WMATA has proposed a fiscal year 2020 capital budget of $1.4 billion. Without documented policies and procedures for implementing the new planning process, WMATA's stakeholders do not have reasonable assurance that WMATA is following a sound process for making investment decisions.

WMATA has made significant progress toward its track preventive maintenance program's goals, which are to reduce both track-defect and electrical-fire incidents by 50 percent in fiscal year 2019 compared with 2017. In fiscal year 2018, WMATA met its goal for reducing track defect incidents and reduced electrical fire incidents by 20 percent. However, in designing the program, WMATA did not fully assess risks. For example, WMATA did not quantitatively assess the impact of track defects or electrical fires on its ability to provide service, nor did it consider other risks such as non-electrical track fires, which represent about 30 percent of all fires on the system, or other factors, such as resources or track time. Without a comprehensive risk assessment, WMATA lacks reasonable assurance that the program is designed to address risks affecting the safety of the rail system or other risks that could hinder the new program's success.

Why GAO Did This Study

Safety incidents in recent years on WMATA's rail system have raised questions about its processes for performing critical maintenance and replacing capital assets. WMATA initiated a new preventive maintenance program for its rail track in 2017, and is currently implementing a new capital planning process.

GAO was asked to examine issues related to WMATA's capital funding and maintenance practices. This report examines: (1) how WMATA spent its capital funds from fiscal years 2011 through 2017, (2) how WMATA's new capital planning process addresses weaknesses it identified in the prior process, and (3) WMATA's progress toward its track preventive maintenance program's goals and how the program aligns with leading program management practices. GAO analyzed WMATA's financial and program information, interviewed officials of WMATA, the Federal Transit Administration, and five transit agencies selected for similarities to WMATA. GAO compared WMATA's capital planning process and track maintenance program with leading practices.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making five recommendations, including that WMATA establish documented policies and procedures for the new capital planning process and conduct a comprehensive risk assessment for the track preventive maintenance program. WMATA described actions planned or underway to address GAO's recommendations. GAO believes the recommendations should be fully implemented, as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Mark Goldstein at (202) 512-2834 or goldsteinm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: WMATA stated that it agreed with the recommendation, in part. WMATA said it will continue its efforts to finalize and document policies and procedures for the capital planning process for fiscal year 2021 and beyond. WMATA noted that it already has in place numerous planning tools, such as the 2016 Capital Needs Inventory assessment, which helped inform the fiscal year 2020 capital planning process. However, while WMATA has tools available to inform the capital planning process, it has not prepared documented policies and procedures for this process in fiscal year 2020. As we reported, without documented policies and procedures, including those for ranking and selecting projects for the fiscal year 2020 capital budget, WMATA's stakeholders do not have reasonable assurance that capital investment decisions are made using a sound and transparent process. Taking action now to establish methodologies for ranking and selecting projects for the fiscal year 2020 capital budget would provide WMATA with an opportunity to improve upon those methodologies for the fiscal year 2021 capital planning process to better ensure investments are directed to WMATA's highest priority needs. As such, we continue to believe this recommendation is valid and that WMATA should fully implement it.

    Recommendation: The General Manager of WMATA should establish documented policies and procedures for the new capital planning process. These policies and procedures should include methodologies for ranking and selecting capital projects for funding in WMATA's fiscal year 2020 capital budget and fiscal years 2020-2025 Capital Improvement Program and for future planning cycles. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: WMATA stated that it agreed with the intent of the recommendation. WMATA also stated that it has developed such measures through compliance with federal requirements, including the FTA's performance-based planning requirements and the requirement under MAP-21 that tier I transit providers, such as WMATA, establish state-of-good-repair targets that are linked to the capital program. WMATA noted these targets are set forth in its Transit Asset Management Plan. Although WMATA's October 2018 Transit Asset Management plan includes some broad performance measures and targets for the state-of-good-repair for its various asset classes, as we reported, WMATA has not developed performance measures to assess individual capital projects or the capital planning process itself, as suggested by leading practices in the Executive Guide. As discussed in the report, such measures are important to determine if capital investments have achieved their expected benefits and if they have achieved organizational goals. Leading practices also indicate that by using a mixture of measures managers can assess performance based on a comprehensive view of the needs and objectives of an organization. These needs and objectives can go beyond just the state-of-good-repair to include such things as measures for assessing projects that would improve service reliability, expand capacity, or achieve financial objectives. We continue to believe that fully implementing this recommendation would help ensure that capital investments meet their intended outcomes and that the capital planning process helps WMATA achieve its strategic goals and objectives.

    Recommendation: The General Manager of WMATA should develop performance measures to be used for assessing capital investments and the capital planning process to determine if the investments and planning process have achieved their planned goals and objectives. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: WMATA stated that it agreed with the intent of the recommendation and that its 2018 Transit Asset Management Plan outlines plans for continuing its asset inventory update. WMATA also said that it is working to ensure it has a complete asset inventory that addresses legacy information and that includes accurate, up-to-date condition assessments. As we reported, the Enterprise Asset Management Program-the program that WMATA told us it plans to use to continue development of asset inventories and condition assessments-includes some elements of good project management, but it also lacks an established plan for collecting asset inventory and condition assessment information. Without a plan to obtain asset inventory and condition assessment information WMATA will continue to lack critical information needed for good capital planning and sound investment decision-making. Thus, we continue to believe that this recommendation is valid and that WMATA should fully implement it.

    Recommendation: The General Manager of WMATA should develop a plan for obtaining complete information regarding WMATA's asset inventory and physical condition assessments, including assets related to track and structures. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: WMATA stated that it agreed with the intent of the recommendation and is putting in place a new process that will address it. Specifically, WMATA stated it is in the process of developing a new Reliability Centered Maintenance process that will include a comprehensive risk assessment of track infrastructure that includes consideration of broader risks such as costs, funding, and track access. During our review, WMATA officials did not discuss the Reliability Centered Maintenance process in detail or provide documentation that allowed us to evaluate how this process might interface with the current track preventive maintenance program. As a result, we were not able to evaluate how it might address identification and assessment of risks associated with track preventive maintenance. As we reported, going forward track preventive maintenance will play a critical role as WMATA works to reduce track defects and fires. We will review WMATA's actions to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment as part of our routine recommendation follow-up process.

    Recommendation: The General Manager of WMATA should conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of the track preventive maintenance program that includes both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of relevant program risks. In addition to considering technical program risks, WMATA should also consider broader program risks, such as the availability of funding for the program and stakeholders' support. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: WMATA stated that it disagreed with the recommendation. WMATA noted that specific technical details of the track preventive maintenance program are evolving as it better understands the most effective maintenance regime through implementation of the Reliability Centered Maintenance process. WMATA stated that it believes the framework of Reliability Centered Maintenance is better suited to the ongoing mission of physical asset management than traditional project and program management tools. As stated above, WMATA did not provide details about Reliability Centered Maintenance during our review so we are not able to evaluate this process in relation to the track preventive maintenance program. We will review WMATA's actions related to implementation of the Reliability Centered Maintenance process as part of our routine recommendation follow-up process. We continue to believe this recommendation is valid and that WMATA should fully implement it.

    Recommendation: The General Manager of WMATA should prepare a formal program management plan for the track preventive maintenance program that aligns with WMATA's strategic plan, addresses how the program is linked to overall strategic goals and objectives, and includes program milestones and decision points. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

 

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