The DCist published an article detailing how climate change affects transit now and what they say it will affect in the future. The two biggest impacts are caused by flooding and heat–according to Harriet Tregoning, the former director of the District of Columbia Office of Planning and the current director of the New Urban Mobility alliance at the World Resources Institute. This article was published as part of their Covering Climate Now event, a global collaboration between two hundred news outlets to increase news coverage of climate stories.


High temperatures impact the stability of our rails creating a need for more repair and closures. Construction workers might be unable to work overnight for these repairs to occur to Metro and roads. The VRE, over the past four years, has seen a steady increase in heat orders like heat restrictions that require trains to run 20 mph slower. This is according to Joe Swartz, chief-of-staff of VRE. Amtrak and Metro run a similar policy for their trains, where the heat of the rails are measured and train speeds slowed down accordingly.


Heat can cause rails to buckle, which can cause derailments. Slower speeds can help engineers visually spot a heat kink and stop the train in time to avoid derailment. This means about a 8-10 minute delay for VRE riders. Heat orders are typically issued over a roughly 108-day period between April and September. Between 2016 and 2018, roughly 27 days a year required heat orders. That nearly doubled in 2019, with 49 such days. In July, they were necessary during 90 percent of the month.



With more flooding in the future, it’s worth looking at what happened when record-breaking flooding coincided with morning rush hour in August: high-water rescues on the roads, power outages, and delayed transit services. Climate change can cause frequent intense storms, which can overwhelm the capacity of storm sewers. It’s very possible that we’ll see more examples of water pouring into a Metro station, down the escalators, or even into your train.


WMATA didn’t respond to direct questions about how the Metro intends to respond to extreme weather, except to say that it’s working on “several projects that directly relate to climate adaption,” a spokesperson said. This includes raising vent shafts, sealing tunnels, and upgrading pumping stations. Mayor Muriel Bowser has invested $5.7 million over five years to fund a digital flood model of the District to predict catastrophic flooding that might impact the Metro or roads. “The mayor’s investment of better understanding our flood risk will identify the areas that are more at risk of flooding,” he says.


Extreme weather can cause commuters to change their transit patterns. More obvious commute options affected are modes like biking and walking to work as severe weather deters even short distance commuters. The article cites a DC bike commuter named Brianne Eby who is quoted as saying, “I’m a bike commuter, so this is near and dear to my heart. You need to have a variety of options. If I can’t bike, I have to rely on public transit. This is about improving modes of operation.” Eby, who worked in transportation policy, believes that organizations like WMATA, Amtrak, VRE and the DC Department of Transportation need to publicly address how heat, rain or other weather events will affect public transit and how they plan to overcome these obstacles.


According to the interagency Sustainability DC 2.0 plan, the D.C. government is pushing for more commuters to consider options other than a personal car, including by expanding the D.C. Streetcar and improving biking infrastructure. D.C.’s long-term plan is to expand the current bike lane network to include 44 miles of protected lanes and prioritize bike lanes east of the Anacostia River. It also aims to increase the number of Capital Bikeshare stations from 278 to 325 by 2020. And polarizing feelings about scooters aside, D.C.’s first resilience officer, Kevin Bush said increasing access to electric scooters in the city is not just about reducing carbon pollution but also giving people more transportation options.


Via DCist article “Climate Change Is Already Impacting The Region’s Public Transit” by Chelsea Cirruzzo