Metro has some explaining to do

November 7, 2012

The train may be crowded, but these riders at Metro Center were luckier than those early Sunday. At least they had a train. (Susan Biddle — For The Washington Post)

As far as we know, the shutdown of subway service in the nation’s capital early Sunday morning was well-coordinated and came off without a hitch. From the operations control center that monitors the trains to the staffers in the 84 stations open that night, everyone did as they routinely do in closing gates, shutting off nearly 600 escalators and halting more than 250 elevators.

It’s just that they performed every one of those tasks an hour before the transit authority told riders they would.

A mistake was made,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel told Post reporter Mark Berman.

That part, we get. What would be nice to know now is what steps the transit authority is taking to make sure that in the future the trains will run when Metro says they will run.

What have we heard on that? So far, crickets.

Metro said it was “human error.” But no word on which humans, or on how Metro management will work with those humans to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

But wait. Everyone was on the same page. Well, everyone except the riders.

This was the statement Metro put out on Friday to guide riders on the late Saturday-early Sunday service:

“Metrorail to close at 3 a.m. EST”
“Extra hour of service as clocks fall back at 2 a.m.”

“This Saturday, Nov. 3, Metro will operate on its normal weekend schedule until 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time early Sunday morning, even though clocks will be turned back an hour at 2 a.m. at the end of Daylight Saving Time.” 

It’s reasonable to think that someone working on the rail system Saturday night got the same or a similar memo. And unless Metro staff turnover is a lot higher than we think, someone might have been on duty who recalled the advisory Metro sent out before the time change last fall. That 2011 advisory started off:

“Metrorail to close at 3 a.m. EST”
“Extra hour of service as clocks fall back at 2 a.m.”

That thing we did last year, we’re doing it again this year.

But as far as we know, no Metro employee who was told to shut down an hour early this year said, “Hey, wait a minute … ” (Or even better, wait an hour.)

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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Mark Berman | November 7, 2012