After several years of study, the transit authority has decided how it wants to rearrange the Metrorail trains. Now Metro’s task is to explain this new rush-hour service so people can take advantage of it, or at least avoid getting lost.
Starting in June, the peak period service will include more Orange Line trains coming from the line’s western end in Northern Virginia into downtown Washington. Fewer Blue Line trains will serve the downtown’s west side. More trains from Northern Virginia will serve the downtown’s east side. Those trains will arrive in the District at L’Enfant Plaza and continue north to Greenbelt in Prince George’s County.
Metrorail commuters develop habits. They don’t need to look at a map for directions. They don’t need to pull out their earbuds to hear announcements. They know where to stand on the platform to board the rail car that’s going to wind up closest to the station escalator that’s closest to their office.
Why mess with that?
Three reasons: Ridership on the eastern side of downtown is growing faster than on the western side. Rush-hour trains entering the Rosslyn tunnel from Virginia into the District are jammed. The tunnel is handling the maximum number of trains — 26 per hour at peak periods — and in two years, Metro will need to find a way to squeeze in trains coming down the new Silver Line.
But if the Silver Line won’t be ready till 2013, why does Metro want to make these changes in the middle of 2012?
Two reasons: One is to let riders get used to the new patterns. This is the biggest change in train origins and destinations since the original system was completed. The other reason is that Metro officials want time to see how riders respond, and possibly make adjustments.
The transit staff expects a certain percentage of Blue and Yellow Line riders to alter their behavior. Metro estimates that somewhere between 20 and 33 percent of today’s Blue Line riders will shift to Yellow Line trains. Exactly how many do that and where could affect crowding.
Overall, Metro officials say, the changes are going to help a lot more riders than they hurt. The staff’s rough estimate is that 108,000 riders will benefit from service increases and time savings. That accounts for 43 percent of the trips made at peak periods.
Orange Line riders in Northern Virginia who have to let several inbound trains pass them by in the morning before they find space to cram aboard should find less crowding thanks to three more trains per hour at peak periods from West Falls Church.
Today’s Blue Line riders who follow a circuitous route through Rosslyn to reach offices on the east side of downtown will have access to extra trains taking the shorter route across the Potomac River bridge into L’Enfant Plaza. Those extra trains will be marked as Yellow Line trains, and they will travel between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt. That means that at rush hours, the Yellow Line will have two terminals in Virginia, the traditional one at Huntington and the new one at Franconia-Springfield.