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Riding Metro with Rush Plus: Are two trains better than one?

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After five days of Metro’s new Rush Plus service, one thing is judgeable: If Blue Line commuters keep doing what they did before Rush Plus, the remaining Blue Line trains between Virginia and the District will be jammed.

That’s simple math. Rush Plus adds service on the Orange and Yellow lines during the height of rush hour and subtracts trains from the Blue Line. But which way is better for commuters? On Wednesday morning, we did one of our periodic tests of commuter routes.

A key problem for Blue Line riders waiting on Virginia platforms shared with the Yellow Line is that two of their trains are scheduled to arrive six minutes apart, then there’s a 12-minute gap before the next one. Meanwhile, several Yellow Line trains will arrive.

Commuters who work around L’Enfant Plaza, Gallery Place, Union Station or Capitol South are almost certainly better off taking Yellow Line trains. Commuters who are trying to reach Rosslyn or the west side of the Orange Line might as well wait for the next Blue Line train, despite the big gap.

But there’s some uncharted territory on the west side of the District. For that trip, is a rider better off waiting for the Blue or boarding the next Yellow?

We picked King Street station as our origin and Farragut West as our destination, because the schedule from the Trip Planner on Metro’s Web site seemed competitive: The Blue Line ride would involve a wait, followed by 22 minutes aboard one train, and the Yellow Line ride would total 24 minutes aboard two trains, plus transfer time.

Dr. Gridlock: Yellow Line

7:43 a.m., King Street. The next-train information board — when it’s not displaying pound signs instead of information — says it’s a 10-minute wait for the next Blue Line train, so I board a six-car Yellow Line train bound for Mount Vernon Square. (This is the old Yellow Line, not one of the new Rush Plus Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt.) In car 5098, three people are standing, but about 10 seats remain open.

7:51 a.m., Crystal City. All the seats are gone, and 15 people are standing. The platform isn’t crowded, but there are clusters of people who must be waiting for the next Blue Line train.

7:54 a.m., Pentagon. A few depart, but a dozen board, so we have about 32 standing in our car as the train crosses the Potomac River bridge into the District.

8 a.m., L’Enfant Plaza. I am on the back portion of the Yellow Line train as we arrive and walk to the Orange and Blue line trains on the lower level. The platforms and escalators are crowded, but I never stop moving, so I am able to board a waiting Orange Line train just before the doors close.

8:03 a.m., Federal Triangle. When we left L’Enfant Plaza, car 3120 was full of standees. But the crowd begins to diminish as people head for their offices. I have plenty of room to stand in the middle of the car. About a dozen other riders still stand. The air conditioning is a lot better than on the Yellow Line car. Riders are appropriately dressed for the first day of summer, when the temperature will reach the upper 90s.

8:04 a.m., Metro Center. Big exchange of passengers here, and it becomes slightly more crowded, but I get a seat on the aisle in the middle of the car.

8:07 a.m., Farragut West. I walk up a stopped escalator — my first of the day — to reach the mezzanine, cross over and await Mark on the opposite platform. I look at the schedule from Trip Planner. When I requested times for a trip from King Street to Farragut West, it would show me only Blue Line rides. So I had to split it into King Street to L’Enfant Plaza, and then L’Enfant Plaza to Farragut West.

The resulting schedule had me arriving at either 8:07 or 8:11, depending on how quickly I made the transfer at L’Enfant Plaza. On this morning, I hit it just right. And I could have had a seat on both trains.

I see Mark approaching. As always with these competitions, the loser has to grow a mustache. A deal’s a deal.

Mark Berman: Blue Line

7:48 a.m. , King Street. Three Yellow Line trains heading for downtown have arrived in the past six minutes. Many commuters ignore these trains and wait for a Blue Line train.

7:51 a.m. , King Street. A six-car Blue Line train bound for Largo Town Center arrives. The train is crowded, with most seats taken. I pile into the second-to-last car; like most of the people boarding the train, and a few already on it, I have to stand.

8:02 a.m., Pentagon City. The train has only become more crowded since King Street. Riders are trying to stay near the doors and aren’t moving to the center of the car to make room. It’s a very crowded train, but we could squeeze a few more on. Is there a way to state this without sounding like a nag? I noodle this quandary for a while.

8:04 a.m., Pentagon. Almost no one gets off, but lots of newcomers try to pile through the doors. We hold here an extra minute as the operator twice implores people to use all doors and move to the center of the cars. The platform remains congested as we leave. The last two cars are similarly jammed: Bodies are mashed up against one another, with arms jutting up and out to hold the bars.

8:09 a.m., Arlington Cemetery to Rosslyn. We come to a stuttering halt but immediately start moving again. I feel six cars worth of commuters relax and unclench.

8:10 a.m., Rosslyn. Many riders get off the train and head downstairs, presumably to board westbound Orange Line trains. As we pull away, a decent crowd remains on the upper platform. Our train is just as packed.

8:13 a.m., Foggy Bottom. Just like in Rosslyn, it seems like the same number of riders get off as board the train.

8:15 a.m., Farragut West. This is the destination for many riders. A mass of commuters pours out and streams up the escalators on both ends of the platform. Looking back, I note that for the first time since I boarded the train, it has many open seats.

I meet Dr. Gridlock. My trip took two minutes longer than what Trip Planner predicted. But he still would have won.

As always with these competitions, the loser has to shave his mustache. A deal’s a deal.

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