Metro: New equipment will find cracked rails before problems arise

Metro's board has released figures that some commuters could find downright frightening.

The number of rail cracks has dramatically increased in recent years.

Cracks are the most frequent rail problem to cause delays.

The number of cracks in Metro's rails has increased steadily--from 19 in 2009, to 33 in 2010, to 49 in 2011.

Last week, a crack on the Red Line -- Metro's oldest and most heavily used segment -- caused delays for riders on Metro's busiest line for nearly five hours.. And now it appears to be part of a growing trend.

Metro says the cracking occurs because of fluctuations in the temperature, which cause the metal to expand and contract.

But the transit agency blames the problem largely on aging infrastructure and says, while it has fallen behind on maintenance, it will soon catch up.

"It will take a couple years to get us back where we want to be, but its underway and overtime it will get better," Dan Stessel, Metro Spokesman, says.

This summer, Metro will also get a new piece of equipment called a track geometry vehicle. It can identify cracks before they become big enough to disrupt service.

"If you think about the equipment we have now being the equivalent of an x-ray, this vehicle is the equivalent of an MRI," Stessel says.