Metro’s evolving strategy for holiday service

November 4, 2013

Riders will feel the impact of the rebuilding program on four lines this holiday weekend.(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Metro will use this long Veterans Day weekend to extend its major track work program, but riders are likely to see schedule improvements on long fall weekends in years ahead.

The transit authority is “transitioning away from intensive track work” on Columbus Day and Veterans Day, spokesman Dan Stessel said. During the rebuilding program, Metro has tended to use almost every three-day weekend available for major track work, the kind that shuts stations and parts of lines. Riders protested that not all holidays are equal. On some federal holidays, Columbus Day and Veterans Day in particular, many private employees need to get to work.

The transit rebuilding program that targets weekends is premised on the idea that weekends are times of relatively low ridership, when the impact of disrupting a line should be least. But Metro statistics show the ridership on Columbus Day and Veterans Day ridership tends to be higher than that for other holidays when Metro has scheduled major work. Columbus Day and Veterans Day also tend to have rush hour peaks. Though nowhere near the weekday peaks, those two holiday peaks are still impressive considering that federal workers normally make up a third of the rush hour ridership.

In keeping with this evolving strategy on holiday schedules, there was no track work on this year’s Columbus Day. The schedule was a bit of a hybrid, combining aspects of weekend and weekday service. Metrorail opened at 5 a.m. just like a weekday, but operated on a Saturday train schedule and offered free parking at its lots and garages.

The work for this Veterans Day weekend couldn’t be rescheduled, Stessel said — Metro plans some weekend projects more than half a year in advance — so there will be major track work on the Red Line from 10 p.m. Friday through the midnight closing on Monday, Veterans Day. Other weekend work will affect Monday’s service on the Orange, Blue and Yellow lines. The train system will open at 5 a.m. Monday, as on weekdays. Parking will be free, as on other federal holidays.

The plan to lighten up on future fall holidays is partly a response to rider complaints, but Stessel said it’s one of several steps made possible by progress in the overall rebuilding program. There’s no more midday track work, and work on weeknights starts no earlier than 10.

Metro officials include hedges when they talk about the future of the rebuilding schedule. Rob Troup, the deputy general manager in charge of Metrorail told Metro board members in October that track work would never be “done.” There always will be times when crews need to be out on maintenance projects, although the intensive part of the rebuilding program should diminish in 2017. Some projects, like switch replacements, will always need consecutive hours available on a long holiday weekend.

But “whenever possible” on the fall holidays, Stessel said, “we will avoid buses-replacing-trains, especially in the core.” When it does happen, he said, Metrorail will try to reduce the impact on riders.

This weekend will be an example, Stessel said: Additional trains will be in service on Veterans Day between Vienna and Stadium-Armory to reduce the effects of work on the Orange and Blue lines.

Another factor in scheduling holiday work is the calendar itself. Veterans Day is always Nov. 11. That often creates a long holiday weekend, but not every year.

Here’s the full schedule for work from 10 p.m. Friday through the Monday holiday:

Red Line. On the west side of the line, free shuttle buses will replace trains at Shady Grove, Rockville and Twinbrook stations. On the rest of the line, trains will leave White Flint and Glenmont about every 12 minutes during the daytime. More trains will be in service along the interior portion of the line between Grosvenor and Silver Spring, so in that zone, trains should reach platforms about every six minutes during the daytime.

Orange Line. Trains will leave the ends of the line about every 20 minutes, but more trains will be in service between Vienna and Stadium-Armory. In that zone, trains should reach platforms about every 10 minutes during daytime hours. The work zone is between Stadium-Armory and Cheverly. Crews are rebuilding the platforms at Minnesota Avenue and Deanwood.

Blue Line. Trains will operate about every 20 minutes.

Yellow Line. Trains will operate about every 20 minutes between Huntington and Mount Vernon Square. (On weekends when there is regular service, the trains continue north to Fort Totten.)

Green Line. Normal service, with trains about every 12 minutes.

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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