WASHINGTON (WUSA9) – Now a Grammy winning sound engineer's analysis has found 95% of Metrorail announcements tested unacceptable, but - even in the wake of a similar WUSA9 test published over a week ago - WMATA won't answer questions on the subject or even acknowledge the scope of the problem.
"Five percent maybe, at most," is what sound engineer Pete Novak deemed understandable during a recent 19 stop spot-check on the Redline. "It's getting lost. Not a clue."
Metro won't answer our questions, maybe they'll answer yours. You can e-mail the WMATA Board of Directors here: BoardofDirectors@wmata.com.
Despite the WUSA9 analysis, social media outcries identifying similar commuter concerns, and a WUSA9 public #MetroIntervention on the subject at Farragut North, WMATA's only response to the engineer's analysis has been to re-issue the same statement it released for our original story of audio problems.
"Mystery riders found that announcements were understandable 85 percent of the time," said Caroline Laurin in the re-issued statement. "It is important to note that we will soon begin the replacement of more than a third of Metro's fleet--every 1000- and 4000-series car--with new 7000-series cars that feature all digital audio systems and automated announcements for improved clarity and consistency."
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles recently estimated the year 2020 as when half the fleet could be updated with the 7000 series audio systems, pending funding.
Novak doesn't know trains, but he does know sound.
He won his Grammy for the Outkast Album of the Year, "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below."
He is also an engineer and instructor at Rockville's Omega Studios.
During his Redline review, Novak cocked his head and expressed confusion at nearly every announcement.
"Not a clue. Soup?" Novak asked trying to interpret one announcement. "So much static in that message."
Novak identified what he believes could be inexpensive, quick fixes to the problem.
He believes audio levels should be increased, operators should be trained to better use the microphones and enunciate, announcements should be prevented from being made at the same time as the trains automated doors closing warnings, and train speaker systems should be combined.
""The automated announcement are a good 20 decibels louder than what's coming out of the from the conductor," Novak said of warnings from the separate automated speaker system.
He said design issues could be impacting the other speakers serving the operator's announcements.
"So that speaker is very directional," Novak said. "Coming straight down. It's getting lost. It might need to be mounted different."
"You can have two things going over the same speaker, he said as another unclear announcement interrupted him. "I still don't know where we're going next."
WUSA9 offered to share with WMATA Novak's opinions that some easy changes could make big improvements, but Metro did respond.