Leahy applauded the MTA's effort to build new rail lines but, he said, the maintenance backlog "is going to have a consequence....We've got to maintain our investment."
Indeed, maintenance problems have been building up nationally. According to a 2010 study by the Federal Transit Administration, $77.7 billion is needed to bring bus and rail transit systems into good repair.
The MTA estimates that the purchase of replacement cars for the Blue Line alone could eliminate almost half its deferred maintenance. Of the $558 million earmarked for the system, about $64 million has already been spent repairing tracks, signals and communications equipment. Another $30 million in work is underway, mostly on motors, brakes, electrical systems and cosmetics for Blue Line cars.
MTA spokesman Marc Littman said the maintenance problem was rooted in decisions that started about a decade ago when officials sometimes shifted funds to balance operating budgets. He added that shortly after Leahy arrived, he flagged deferred maintenance and on-time performance.
Some of the work — mid-life overhauls of Blue Line cars — was deliberately delayed in 2009 when the MTA board tentatively extended a contract to buy 100 new rail cars from the Italian firm AnsaldoBreda. The deal fell apart at the eleventh hour, and the overhauls were postponed again, officials said.
Snoble, Metro's former chief, agreed on Friday that budget problems occurred, but said maintenance for bus and rail systems was a high priority during his administration. He blamed the current rash of breakdowns on the fact that the Blue Line is an old system.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the MTA board, recently sent a letter to Leahy demanding a full examination of the line, saying it "has been a major transportation backbone" for the whole transit system and that its approximately 80,000 weekday riders depend on reliable service.
"Just this year there has been a noticeable increase in the number of delays, service disruptions and accidents along the Blue Line," Villaraigosa wrote. "The frequency of these incidents requires immediate attention."