Metro updates schedule for major track work


Will Metrorail riders someday see light at the end of the tunnel on the disruptive reconstruction projects? (Matt McClain/For The Washington Post)

As I was starting to write this posting outlining the most significant Metrorail disruptions for the rest of 2013, an e-mail correspondent sent a message that contained only this quote: “A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight.”

It’s from Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of “Prozac Nation.” Her topic was very different from ours, but the outlook is one that might resonate with the D.C. region’s transit users — if only they could see the end in sight.

Twice a year, the transit authority makes public the six-month schedule for major disruptions — the kind that involve station closings — that allow the Metrorail rebuilding program to proceed.

It’s a very good thing for Metro to publicize the schedule well in advance, which it can do because the major rebuilding projects require a long setup time. People write in frequently to say they want this information to help them plan weekend activities. Civic, religious and business organizations also need it, because the station closings can have a significant impact on their weekend events.

Two years into the aggressive program of station closings and track-sharing around work zones, Metro also has made it easier to plan weekend trips. There’s more information posted in the stations in advance of weekend disruptions, and there’s much more available on Metro’s Web site. Each Friday, the online Trip Planner is updated to incorporate the weekend disruptions into the schedule.

These are improvements worthy of note. But is the end in sight? Well, the major track work schedule made public on Tuesday looks a lot like the one made public in January to cover the first half of the year.

I could use the same headline today that we used on Jan. 26: “Metro station closings to affect all rail lines.” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said at that time that riders should anticipate four more years of this aggressive program, before the pace eases into what would be more of a routine upkeep phase.

So in that sense, there is an end in sight: 2017. But for the mere mortals who endure both the planned and the unplanned disruptions on Metrorail, it’s like knowing that someday the universe will cease to expand.

We just don’t think that big. Riders are interested in when the entire rail program will be done, but what they care most about are the stations, escalators and trains along their own routes. On that, they’re getting very little information, and certainly no timetables.

I mean routinely telling the riders when an outdoor platform is likely to be done, when the ancient chiller serving an underground station will again pump out cool air, when the trains will return to the automatic control system they were designed for.

I mentioned the issue of automatic train controls in my Sunday column. Four years after automatic train control was suspended after the Red Line crash, Sarles won’t even name a target year for a restoration.

Riders will have great sympathy with his insistence on being absolutely sure the new system will work day in and day out. How does that conflict with naming a target year?

On Sunday’s Commuter page, I listed a dozen Maryland highway projects that will be under construction this year. I could have listed scores more with timetables. Maryland manages a complex roadway rebuilding program that involves the safety of hundreds of thousands of motorists, but that doesn’t preclude the state from setting targets for completing those projects.

Does it bother you Maryland motorists to know that the State Highway Administration predicts it will be done with the New Hampshire Avenue bridge over Sligo Creek in spring 2014? If we get to spring 2014 and the job isn’t done, are you afraid that frantic road crews will super glue the bridge in place rather than extend the timetable?

For most transportation agencies in the D.C. region, making timetables available to the public is routine. Metro is making more and more information available on how to cope with current disruptions, but the transit authority does not routinely publicize timetables for when it expects to complete some of the jobs that riders care most about.

Here’s a summary of what the next seven months will be like for weekend riders:

  • The major track work schedule shows 10 weekend projects on the Red Line.
  • Eight major projects will affect service on the Orange Line.
  • Six major projects will affect service on the Blue Line.
  • Three major projects will affect service on the Green Line and three on the Yellow Line.
  • Over the long Labor Day weekend, buses will replace Red Line trains between Rhode Island Avenue and Forest Glen.
  • On Columbus Day weekend, buses will replace Orange Line trains between Stadium-Armory and New Carrollton, but the trains will operate on Monday, Oct. 14.
  • On the long weekend that includes Veterans Day, Nov.11, buses will replace Red Line trains between Shady Grove and Twinbrook.
  • No major projects are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend.
  • On the weekend before Christmas, buses will replace trains between Foggy Bottom and Court House and between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.

Here’s a link to the major track work schedule on Metro’s Web site.

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 · June 18, 2013