Metro cars smell like old, damp carpet

Robert Thomson
Columnist June 27, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I travel from Vienna to McPherson Square each day on Metro. Do other people notice that many of the rail cars smell very musty and/or moldy? Some days I get on and off several of them before finding one that is low enough on the stink scale not to spend 30 minutes of my day worrying about whether I’ll spend the rest of my day with a headache. Pay attention, and you’ll notice quite a bit of sneezing and coughing on some of them. I assume it comes from the carpets getting wet near the entrances.

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. View Archive

Sallie Twentyman, Vienna

DG: Metro cars trap odors. Once upon a time, it seemed like a great idea to have carpets and padded seats. Metro was designed to draw drivers to transit at a time when the car was king. The idea was to create an environment that would resemble the interior of a car.

Metro does periodic cleanings of the carpet. But imagine how your wall-to-wall would hold up if you held an open house for the neighborhood every day. I think this is one more area where the designers of the system failed to envision the day when it would no longer be young. Heat, humidity and rain bring out the worst in the car interiors. Some riders are more sensitive than others to the interior smells. I’m only moderately sensitive — no allergies — but I’ll board a train at the front or the back, where the newer cars are located. The new cars on order will be of a radically different design inside. No more carpet. No more padded seats. They will strike many riders as more utilitarian, but they should be less odiferous.

Summer getaways

After I printed a letter about vacation driving routes to New England [Dr. Gridlock, May 30], many readers wanted to join me in playing travel agent.


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A reader from Rockville asked about alternate routes to Cape Cod, and I would like to add to your advice. First, from Rockville, the best way to the Pennsylvania route you describe is Interstate 270 North to Frederick to Route 15 North to Harrisburg, Pa., where he can get on Interstate 83/81 North to Interstate 78. Rather than going north to Interstate 80 while in Pennsylvania, I suggest staying on I-78 East into New Jersey and then taking Interstate 287 North. The reader could then continue on I-287 to the Tappan Zee Bridge. Somewhere between the intersection with I-78 and the bridge would also be a good halfway point to spend the night, particularly up near the Hudson. There are lovely places on either side of the river.

Colleen Moore, Gaithersburg

DG: I’m reluctant to send drivers west before returning them east, but many travelers have endorsed Moore’s route to Frederick and Route 15.

It’s a scenic route up through the Catoctin Mountains, and it skirts Gettysburg before moving on to Harrisburg. It adds some miles, but if you’re retired, like the Rockville couple who are on their way to Cape Cod, or you have an extended summer vacation, this may be the route for you to avoid Interstate 95 and some of the heavy traffic near New York.

Try the ferry

In my summer travel suggestions, I sometimes mention the ferry between Lewes, Del., and Cape May, N.J., as an alternative route to New York and New England. But here’s another voyage you could try.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My wife and I spend July on Cape Cod, in Buzzards Bay, in a waterfront cottage my grandfather built in 1930.

Here’s the route we take: We visit my wife’s parents on Long Island then make this wonderful drive east to Orient Point and take the ferry to New London, Conn. From there, it’s about an hour and a half to the Cape Cod Canal.

The drive through the Long Island countryside is terrific, relaxing and fun. Many of the old Long Island potato farms have been converted into vineyards, and there are fresh farm product stands everywhere.

The 90-minute trip on the ferry is incredibly relaxing. Enjoy the sea air. Sit and read. Just relax. It’s a perfect start to the vacation.

It will add about two to three hours to the trip vs. driving, but you avoid the heavy traffic in the New York City suburbs and the horror of I-95. Well worth it. Reservations recommended but not required. Current fees are about $120 round trip for two passengers and one vehicle.

Frank Surette, Falls Church

DG: This was our route for New England vacations when I was a kid. There’s also a ferry from Port Jefferson, Long Island, to Bridgeport, Conn. But I agree with Surette that the North Fork of Long Island is lovely and the ferry trip to New London is fun.

The company is Cross Sound Ferry. The round trip is a bit pricey for those whose prime motive in seeking alternatives is to cut down on the interstate and bridge tolls. But how about one-way?

Of course, to get to the ferry from the D.C. area, drivers still have to get across New York with its congestion and bridge tolls.

These were some other recommendations that readers submitted:

*If you use the Tappan Zee Bridge and I-287 north of New York City, consider taking the exit for the Merritt Parkway, which parallels I-95 to Milford, Conn., but is a much more scenic route. (I love the tree-lined Merritt, but want you to know that it’s an old design with short entrance and exit ramps that can slow down all traffic.

*If you stick with I-95 and take the George Washington Bridge to the Cross Bronx Expressway, do it in the middle of the night to minimize encounters with the notorious traffic.

*Or, after crossing the George Washington Bridge, go north on the Henry Hudson Parkway (Route 9A) up the west side of Manhattan. The Henry Hudson, a pretty drive, leads to the Sawmill River Parkway, then on to the Cross County Parkway. This turns into the Hutchinson River Parkway, which links to the Merritt Parkway as it crosses into Connecticut.

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