Fast Facts

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.

Skip to Highlights
Highlights

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.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority 1. 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)
Open
As of June 2020, WMATA prepared guidance and briefings for project managers to describe the new capital planning process for WMATA's fiscal year 2021 Capital Improvement Program, as well as for the FY 2021-2030 Capital Plan. WMATA's guidance states that WMATA will prioritize projects based on their alignment with WMATA's strategic and supplemental goals and project readiness. WMATA is currently developing the guidance for the FY 2022 Capital Improvement Program planning cycle, which was delayed by COVID-19. WMATA officials stated that they are also finalizing a Capital Program Planning Policy/Instruction document, and they will provide these guidance documents to GAO once completed. GAO will continue to assess whether these policies and procedures include a methodology for ranking and selecting capital projects for funding in future Capital Improvement Program cycles, as we recommended.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority 2. 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)
Open
As of June 2020, WMATA is in the process of finalizing the strategic criteria that will be used for the FY 2022 Capital Improvement Program Development process. Once the guidance is approved and issued, copies will be provided to GAO. During the FY 2022 Capital Planning process WMATA is working to define expected outcomes, or key performance indicators describing the success of a capital investment when completed. GAO will continue to assess whether these efforts will develop a means to sufficiently assess WMATA's capital investments and its capital planning process
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority 3. 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)
Open
As of June 2020, WMATA is managing three efforts focused on improving WMATA's asset inventory and condition assessment processes. Specifically, WMATA reported that it is developing Data Governance and Standards rules and working with contractors to improve WMATA's asset inventory and condition assessment processes. According to WMATA officials, these efforts should all be complete by the end of 2020. GAO will continue to monitor WMATA's efforts to address this recommendation.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority 4. 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)
Open
As of June 2020, WMATA reiterated information provided to GAO in October 2019 that it was developing and implementing a new Reliability Centered Maintenance process that will largely replace the previously established preventive maintenance program. According to WMATA, the Reliability Centered Maintenance process will enable WMATA to assess risks to its assets and implement strategies to mitigate those risks. However, WMATA reported that implementation of Reliability Centered Maintenance across the entire enterprise will take considerable time. GAO will continue to monitor WMATA's efforts to implement its Reliability Centered Maintenance process, including the degree to which it includes both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of relevant program risks, as we recommended for the previously existing preventive maintenance program.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority 5. 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)
Open
As of June 2020 WMATA reported that it was developing and implementing a new Reliability Centered Maintenance process that will largely replace the previously established preventive maintenance program. According to WMATA officials, Reliability Centered Maintenance is not a preventive maintenance program itself, but that some of the programs have evolved from preventive maintenance to planned corrective maintenance, based on evaluation of effectiveness of the programs and recommendations from the engineering and maintenance teams. GAO will continue to monitor WMATA's efforts to implement its Reliability Centered Maintenance process, including: whether WMATA has made sufficient efforts to compile their various asset management strategies into a formal program management plan; whether this process is clearly linked to WMATA's overall strategic goals and objectives; and whether it includes milestones and decision points for its implementation, as we recommended for the previously existing preventive maintenance program.

Full Report

GAO Contacts