Metro riders experience simulated Silver Line

How will the Orange, Blue and Silver lines squeeze through crowded Rosslyn Station? Careful choreography. (Note: The animation begins with the trains that are scheduled to run at 7:43 a.m. each weekday, so east- and west-bound trains are on a slightly different schedule.) (Alberto Cuadra/The Washington Post)

This is what I saw during the Monday morning rush, riding the Blue Line between Franconia-Springfield and Rosslyn, where it meets up with the Orange Line. Some of these experiences with Metro’s week of “simulated service” on the Silver Line may help in planning your commutes for this afternoon and the rest of the week.

Many trains on both the Blue and Orange lines were packed by the time they approached the District. But I didn’t see anything on the trains or platforms that a regular rider would have found alarming, despite the decline in the number of Blue Line trains and the number of Orange Line trains at the far western stations.

Why not? We’re deep into summer vacation season, so many people who would be on those trains are away. Also, Mondays tend to have fewer commuters than midweek days. Blue Line riders went through their first cutback two years ago, and may already be familiar with the coping strategies. Most Orange Line stations have the same level of rush hour service they had before the Silver Line testing began.


A Largo-bound Orange Line train reaches Rosslyn. This is one of the Silver Line test trains. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Train conditions. My six-car Blue Line train from Franconia-Springfield got crowded at Pentagon City, but riders at Pentagon could still board without difficulty. My six-car Blue Line train from Rosslyn to Metro Center was difficult to board. The big exodus was at Farragut West. Plenty of seats were available after that. That tells me most people aboard my Blue Line train were there because it made sense for them, given their destination. (Taking the Yellow Line to L’Enfant Plaza and transferring isn’t a good alternative for them.)

At Rosslyn. I figured the junction of the Blue and Orange lines was a good observation point to compare train crowding. Between 8 and 9 a.m., most trains on both lines were very crowded. There was less crowding on the Silver Line test trains, the ones that this week become Orange Line trains at East Falls Church and carry passengers between there and Largo Town Center. But another more common factor that almost always made a difference was the spacing between trains.

If there was a gap of just a few minutes, the next arriving train would be especially crowded. If the two following trains arrived quickly after that, then the second of those trains was positively roomy by comparison to the earlier ones.

Eight cars are better. An eight-car train always had breathing room compared to a six-car train, especially in the last two cars. Half of the Blue Line trains operating during peak periods are now eight cars long, Metro says. That’s swell if the next-arriving train is a long one, but if not, would you really wait at least 12 more minutes for the extra space or would you try to squeeze aboard a six-car train?

Going home. The afternoon rush from the Blue/Orange downtown platforms to the suburbs is a bit different this week. Riders will see a greater proportion of trains marked as Orange Line to East Falls Church or Largo. A smaller portion of the Orange Line trains will have Vienna or New Carrollton as their destinations. If your home destination is, say, Landover, there’s really no choice but to wait it out for a New Carrollton train. If your going back to West Falls Church, or Dunn Loring or Vienna, but those Vienna-bound trains are looking really packed, you might get a less crowded ride this week on a train marked “East Falls Ch.”

You would have to get off along with everybody else on the train at East Falls Church and wait for the next Vienna-bound train, but it’s likely to be less crowded than it was at the downtown stations.

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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Paul Duggan · July 21, 2014