The temperature plunged to 77.5 degrees aboard Car 6050 — a tie for the record low in my observations — on an outbound Green Line train at Prince George's Plaza. The equipment might have gotten an assist from a mostly underground trip through downtown D.C.
Car 3119, heading back downtown on the Green Line at 4:06 p.m., was 88 degrees by the time we reached Fort Totten. Its neighbor, Car 3118, felt much cooler. It was 83 degrees at 4:11 p.m., when we pulled into Columbia Heights.
A properly functioning air conditioning system should cool the car by about 25 degrees. During very hot days, such as the ones I chose for the test, cars with constantly opening doors and crowds of passengers aren’t going to keep up with that. A car that leaves the yard with an acceptable temperature but with equipment that isn’t performing well is likely to be a hot car by the afternoon commute.
What to do
You shouldn’t have to do anything. The transit authority should have air conditioners that work when it gets hot out. After several summers of complaints from riders, the maintenance program should have gained more ground on the problem.
But given what we’ve got, there are things you can do to make commuting easier for yourself and your fellow riders.
Move. I saw one rider in a dark suit, with one hand pressing a cellphone to his ear and the other pulling a roller bag. As he walked through the rail car door, the businessman looked more like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat as he pivoted back through the door and bolted for the next car. On a very hot day, you can be very sure of your instincts when you board a hot car. You won’t need a thermometer to tell you something’s wrong.
Report the car. You can use the intercom to report the number of the hot car. The numbers are in black letters near the intercoms. The operator can report the car to controllers. It can be closed off so others won’t suffer, and a Metro mechanic may be able to fix the problem and get the car back in service while it’s still on the line.
Don’t just sit there. I was impressed with how many riders recognized the symptoms of hot cars and moved. But many riders are docile. The longer you stay in a hot car, the worse you’ll feel. Your brains will fry, and your legs will melt into the seat. The time for action is when you first step aboard.
Don’t be like the crowd on Car 5033. It began to fill up at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Tenleytown platform, and people were still standing in the aisles through downtown D.C. and out to Silver Spring. Temperature for the entire commute: 90 degrees. Moving just one car often provides relief. And the fare stays the same.