America’s public rail transit needs increased maintenance, according to report

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The Eno Center for Transportation released a report outlining how transit agencies can better manage their rail maintenance assets in the face of infrastructure challenges.

The report, entitled “Tools for a Smoother Ride: Managing Rail Assets and Leveraging Competition,” found that, in general, rail maintenance practices are inadequate to meet the infrastructure challenges. America’s public transit is in a maintenance crisis, the report said.

“From New York City to Washington, DC, transit agencies across the country are reckoning with derailments, outages, and other causes of downtime that make people late for work and, more importantly, less safe,” Robert Puentes, president and CEO of Eno, a nonpartisan think tank that promotes policy innovation in the transportation industry, said. “These problems cannot be solved overnight, but it starts with upfront investment in maintaining what we already have and exploring all options for increasing accountability and transparency.”

Increased budgets for rehabs and repairs are required. However, the real overhaul should be in how public agencies conduct their asset management and maintenance programs.

“We interviewed dozens of stakeholders and the consensus was clear: decades of deferred maintenance and misplaced priorities brought us to where we are today,” Paul Lewis, vice president of policy and finance at Eno and co-author of the report, said. “To get back on track, transit agencies must shift their priorities and rededicate themselves to maintaining what we already have before pursuing politically popular but costly expansions.”

Eno recommends that agencies create a culture of prioritizing maintenance through effective asset management. Specifically, they should develop asset management plans based on the actual condition of the infrastructure, rather than strictly adhere to federal guidelines. They should also explore alternatives with the private sector, such as contracting out maintenance services, to bring more accountability and transparency.