Metro has taken on a new strategy to help fill nearly 2,000 vacancies and new positions: speed interviewing.

Modeled after the popular "speed dating" programs for busy singles, the transit agency conducted its first speed interviews in January to try to fill 29 engineering spots. The event featured five-minute speed rounds, and even included bells to signal the end of interviews, according to Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

But unlike speed dating, it was largely a one-way process more akin to the "American Idol" singing contest: The agency sent home those who didn't make the first or second rounds.

Metro ended up with 17 new engineers, 15 of whom already started at the agency, Stessel said.

Now the agency is planning another speed round in March to lure information technology workers. A third is in the works to fill some of the existing 63 rail mechanic vacancies.

Metro conducted the first speed interviews after getting a list of 31 pre-screened candidates for the engineering jobs. On the actual day, 29 showed up and interviewed with 13 hiring managers for five minutes each, Stessel said, moving to a new manager when a bell rang.

Six were sent home. The rest entered round two for a 45-minute one-on-one interview, Stessel said. Boom, the agency then extended 20 offers, contingent on the candidates passing background checks.

The strategy is helpful for the agency in finding the right fit for job candidates, Stessel said. Some workers may be suitable for more than one job, especially in highly skilled fields such as engineering, he said. The speed technique allows Metro more flexibility than if candidates interview for a single job.

The strategy is the latest tool Metro has used to boost its hiring. In November, it held a job fair for military veterans, banking that the government had already screened and trained disciplined people to serve in the armed forces.

This comes as Metro faces a daunting hiring challenge. It plans to add 877 new positions as part of its next budget, boosting its head count to more than 12,000. But the agency already has a systemwide vacancy rate of 6.6 percent and loses 5 percent from attrition each year, meaning the agency will need to hire an estimated 1,800 people in about 18 months.

Recently, Metro board member Tom Downs said the agency had a "snowball's chance in hell" of hiring that many workers in what would be the largest expansion in the agency's history. Metro officials have acknowledged it is a heavy lift.