Metro is relying on overtime when it closes down stations for track work, even though such shutdowns have become a regular part of the agency's schedule, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Examiner.

Yet Metro does not know how much it is spending for the extra pay.

Warning: track work ahead
Metro is planning shutdowns on the Red and Orange lines this weekend, meaning delays for riders on those lines. The transit agency will use free bus shuttles to ferry riders between Union Station and Fort Totten on the Red Line and between Vienna and East Falls Church on the Orange Line. Track work starts at 10 p.m. Friday, which is especially of concern to those who plan to take Metro to Friday night's Washington Nationals game. While the trip to the game should be normal, the return trip home could be more time-consuming than usual if riders transfer to the Red or Orange lines. The closures last through Sunday.

"Our financial system does not currently distinguish overtime costs by day of week," Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas said when asked for a tally of the costs. "As a result, the amount overtime costs incurred specifically as a result of weekend work is not immediately available."

The transit agency is now working on a system to improve the tracking and reporting of overtime, Lukas said.

Some of the transit agency's own staff aren't clear on why the agency needs to rely on overtime for such regularly scheduled events. An internal memo outlining the agenda for a meeting among finance officials about the agency's overtime reporting system asked: "Why do we use overtime for weekend closures when we work every weekend?"

Metro used to relegate track work to the occasional three-day holiday weekend. Then it started doing the work every holiday weekend. In June 2011, the agency started shutting down stations nearly every weekend to address a backlog of maintenance and announced it would publish a calendar with the schedule of work laid out for months in advance.

This weekend, for example, the agency is planning two shutdowns, one on the Orange Line and one on the Red, which will require extra bus drivers to ferry riders on free shuttles, plus additional staff to show riders where to go, not to mention those doing the track work.

Agency officials have negotiated work agreements with Metro's unions to allow for flexible shifts that better match the weekend work hours, Lukas said. "That said, we use overtime strategically as an effective tool to maximize productivity during available track work windows, as it can be more cost-efficient," she added.

In recent years, Metro has blown past its budgeted overtime amounts. In 2011, it spent its entire $48 million budget after just seven months of the fiscal year. The total overtime tally came in at $79.9 million.

The high expenditures translate to bigger checks for some Metro workers. The Examiner has reported that 337 workers took home $40,000 extra in overtime in 2010, a year before the enhanced track work schedule began. That meant some employees were logging 16-hour days for weeks on end.

Metro's board members and its outside safety monitor have raised questions about the safety of having tired employees log such long hours after their normal shifts. The transit agency has pledged to put some work limits into place and has already started with some track workers.