Tips for traveling in hot weather

The hot weather in the D.C. area will sap the energy and moisture from travelers all week long. Here are some suggestions from traffic and transit sources on how to make the best of it.

Transit

-- If the Metrorail car is hot, don’t just sit there. At the next station, try another car. The cars have their own cooling equipment. On summer days when I’ve carried a digital thermometer from car to car, I’ve found variations of 10 degrees.

-- Using Twitter to report hot cars to Metro seems to be the latest thing, and that’s fine. But the old-fashioned way is likely to be the fastest and most effective thing to do: Go to one of the rail car intercoms and tell the operator the car is hot. The operator will call that in. Metro has placed maintenance staffers along the lines so they can board the cars and try to fix the problems. A hot car is a sufficient emergency to use the intercom.

-- If a train car’s doors don’t open when it reaches the platform, it may well be that maintenance couldn’t fix the problem on the go and sealed off the hot car.

-- Riders also can call in the information about heat problems to Metro’s customer service phone, 202-637-1328. Remember the car number.

-- The rail cars are never going to feel like the inside of your home or office with the AC on. There are three doorways on each side of the car to suck in hot air and release the cool. Trains that have recently entered service tend to be warmer, because the air conditioning hasn’t had a chance to take effect.

-- Riders can usually tell the difference between a car that’s warm because it’s hot outside and a car with an AC problem. I’ve seen riders on platforms pivot away from a car entrance as soon as the doors open and they feel the air from inside. Also, and fortunately, the car probably won’t have too many riders aboard, because they’ve already followed step one and moved.

-- The age of the rail car isn’t a good predictor of the AC quality. The 1000 series cars, the oldest and most numerous ones in the fleet, have gone through a mid-life rehab. Meanwhile, maintenance complaints abound about the newer 5000 series cars. (I’ve rarely encountered a temperature problem in the newest cars, the 6000 series, which would be placed at the ends of the trains.)

-- Above ground, the sunlight shining on one side or the other of a train makes a big difference in the temperature.

-- In the stations, the wide open entrances, the presence of hundreds of passengers and the trains pushing warm air ahead of them all contribute to the heat.

-- The last underground station before the line goes above ground can be just ghastly. That’s true at Union Station and at Ballston, for example.

-- Temperatures within the stations also vary. Move around. In one of the portal stations, like Union Station, it may be slightly cooler on the side farthest from the outside air. During the summer, Metro puts big fans on some hot platforms. The fans are really nice.

-- On any of our rail systems — MARC, VRE or Metrorail — the line operators may order the trains to slow down for safety, because heat kinks can develop in the rails.

Driving

These are some tips from AAA for auto safety in the heat.

-- Avoid breakdowns by checking: the car’s coolant tank and radiator, hoses and belts, tires, oil, battery, air and fuel filters.

-- Have these items in the car, in case you do break down: flashlight with extra batteries, warning devices, such as flares or reflective triangles, first aid kit, a fully charged cell phone.

-- Don’t even think about leaving the kids or the elderly in a parked car. And don’t forget the pets.

-- Carry liquids for yourself and the others in the car. Encourage your passengers to drink more than their thirst requires. Children dehydrate much faster than adults.

-- After returning home, always remove the child first before removing the groceries and shopping bags.

-- If your child is in day care, make sure the center and workers have a plan that safeguards children from being left alone on buses, vans or in cars.

-- If you spot a child locked in a car on a hot day, call 911 right away.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.

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