Prepare for the next Metrorail emergency before you’re kicked off the train

Robert Thomson
Columnist March 16, 2013

Thousands of Metro riders saw short trips turn into long trips and long trips turn into expeditions because of a problem on the Blue and Yellow Line tracks in Virginia early Monday. Many felt helpless and just endured till they could squeeze aboard the next inbound train.

What about next time?

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

Asking the question isn’t endorsing the idea that there should be a next time, just saying that people can take steps to prepare. In fact, “prepare” is the essential word that I hear from travelers caught in such situations: It’s better to prepare than to be fate’s plaything.

Most of the suggestions travelers make are really quite simple. In many parts of the densely populated D.C. region, there are options for a displaced rail rider.

Metro has posted “Emergency Evacuation” maps in station mezzanines that show the nearby area, but in an emergency, it’s best not to share the experience of viewing maps along with hundreds of other desperate commuters. Take a few minutes on a normal day to study the things so you can move quickly once you realize the morning’s Plan A won’t work.

The map for Pentagon City, for example, shows the nearby stops for Metrobus and for Arlington Transit. Directions for walking to the next Metro station also appear.

The emergency might not be conveniently located at your boarding station. You may be thrust from your train at some less-familiar stop.

But there’s no need for a station-by-station pilgrimage to check out the maps up the line. Go to Metro’s Web site, www.wmata.com, and click on rail station names to see copies of these maps.

Elsewhere on the Web site, under “Rider Tools,” is a listing for “Service nearby.” You can type in the name of a landmark, a street address or an intersection to get a listing of transit service within a mile.

From a smartphone, dislodged riders could call up Metro’s mobile site, www.wmata.com/mobile, and use the Trip Planner to find bus routes to their destinations. Ideally, though, they would be aware of alternatives before consulting a mobile device.

After Monday’s experience with the delays during single-tracking, some travelers pointed out that preparedness begins at home, before the commute starts. And with so many sources of information today, there’s no need to rely on just one.

One commenter summed it up this way during my online chat Monday: “D.C. area traffic is prone to changing big time in the amount of time it takes to snap your fingers, and it’s impossible for any one news source to keep up with all of what’s going on.”

Sources of traffic and transit information include radio, TV, online traffic maps, traffic and transit apps for smartphones, Metro’s electronic alerts and various Twitter feeds.

Everyone who reads this column is above average and knows about those things. But I find in interviewing commuters about their preparations that most make none, so help spread the word about the information sources.

Readers offered other planning tips:

Sign up for Capital Bikeshare and check the locations of bike stations along your Metro route.

Check the Metrobus maps and timetables for routes near your Metrorail line. One popular example is the 38B, which comes close to the Orange Line route through part of Arlington County and across the Potomac River to Farragut Square. Another recommendation for rail-afflicted Virginians was the 16X Metro Extra, which makes limited stops — including the Pentagon transit center — between Columbia Pike and Federal Triangle.

Others have tested walking routes across the Potomac bridges. One offered a somewhat more traditional solution: Grab a few fellow riders and split the cab fare to a popular destination.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

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