It’s never a good thing to have trains break down. Yet some of the disruptions that followed this morning’s train breakdown — closing of the Dupont Circle station entrance and sending trains through the station without stopping — are part of a plan to protect riders while the southside exit is closed.
The fact that Metro officials put the safety plan into effect should inspire some confidence during a month when other incidents have offered little in the way of comfort for riders.
Before Metro began the escalator replacement project on the south side of Dupont Circle, it worked out a safety plan with emergency responders. A police post was set up at the top of the remaining escalators at the north entrance and a Metro monitoring post was placed on the mezzanine.
Both would be involved if a Red Line disruption led to excessive crowding on the platform. The north entrance would be shut so that no more riders could enter the station from Q Street NW. And train operators would be ordered to temporarily bypass the station, so those six-car or eight-car trains wouldn’t open their doors on an already-crowded platform.
Metro keeps the platform to mezzanine escalators operating on the southside as a backup, in case riders need to be moved quickly from the platform. One of the mezzanine-street escalators in the bank of three that is being replaced will be available throughout the project to serve as a staircase in an emergency. And an emergency stairwell was added before the project began.
During this morning’s rush, passengers had to get off two disabled trains at Dupont Circle. That was bad, but it could have been a serious safety hazard if Metro hadn’t put the safety plan into use, temporarily shut street access to the station and ordered some trains to bypass the station.
Contrast that effective response with the stranding of the Green Line train during the heat wave on July 3, when the riders were stuck inside over-heating rail cars until they began a pretty much self-directed march toward the College Park platform.
I found Metro’s lack of control over that situation even more disturbing than the response to the Green Line derailment three days later, though I got many complaints about that incident from passengers who felt like they lacked information during the lengthy period it took Metro to establish bus service to replace trains.
I thought Metro Board members were not as engaged as they should have been in publicly reviewing details of those incidents with the Metro staff on Thursday.
Some board members did express strong concern about the stranding, and the Metro staff did announce it has revised plans for handling such incidents.
But board members should have pressed for a more detailed explanation about what actually happened. For example, there’s a dispute over how the evacuation began. Riders say that after the rescue train also got stranded, the operator of their train acknowledged they could get off and walk to College Park.
Metro officials know the riders are saying this, but they say the operator denies she told them they could leave.
Board members showed little interest in getting to the bottom of exactly what information, or lack of information, put all those riders onto the tracks.
(I don’t say this because I want Metro to go after the train operator. From the accounts I’ve heard from riders, the operator — who was the lone representative of the transit authority for all these passengers — made the best of a bad situation. But you’d really like to believe that Metro officials know everything they need to know about the incident, so it doesn’t happen again.)