As it prepares to expand into Loudoun County, the region’s maligned Metro rail system is considering fare increases, service reductions and other cuts as it tries to address maintenance and safety concerns and a more than $250 million budget deficit. Speaking at an event hosted by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 1, County board leaders acknowledged the problems but were confident that continued support for Metro was in the county’s best interests.
Saying Metro was vitally important to meet Loudoun’s future housing demands and sustain its economic development, Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) was also candid about the rail system’s problems.
“We have to flat out admit and put it on the table that Metro has had longstanding financial and safety problems that have not been addressed for about 40 years,” Randall said. “And to not say it, to not realize it, to not recognize it, to talk over it, is not logical and not helpful.”
Randall said the leadership of General Manager Paul Weddefeld, now on his second year at the helm of the nation’s second-largest rail transit system, has been a step in the right direction. Funding is the other key component for a turnaround, she said.
With Metro rail service expected to arrive to Loudoun by 2020, the county will be on the hook to help fund the system. Randall said Loudoun, or any other local jurisdiction, would be unable to provide the financial support Metro is looking for. Instead, she said extra funding is needed from the federal government and Virginia.
Randall said the federal government needs Metro to operate, and that Loudoun and other localities impacted by Metro shouldn’t stand in line to fight for federal dollars.
“We move the federal workforce,” Randall said. “We need a federal source. Period. The end.”
In the meantime, Randall stressed that Loudoun wasn’t considering leaving Metro, in large part because of the benefits it will bring to economic development. She also talked about the consequences of pulling out, estimating that the county would lose between $500 million to $1 billion if it reneged on Metro.
Vice Chair Ralph Buona (R- Ashburn) said that number doesn’t take into account the lost revenue in land devaluation. Additionally, Buona said the stations would still be built even without rail service, even if that resulted in “ghost stations”.
“There is huge economic downside to even having that discussion.” Buona said. “Pulling out isn’t an option at this point.”