Rush Plus user’s guide: New Metro service begins June 18

Robert Thomson
Columnist June 9, 2012

In touting its new Rush Plus system, Metro says many crowded stations will see more trains, and the only station that will see fewer trains is the one serving a cemetery. This is true, but it hasn’t mollified commuters who worry that a plus for others will be a minus for them.

Concerns are most common among Blue Line riders. The disappearing trains belong to them. But the service changes, the biggest since the rail system was completed, also has created some anxiety among the many thousands of riders who use stations along the Orange, Yellow and Green lines.

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

There are two major motives behind Rush Plus: Clear some room in the Rosslyn tunnel for the eventual arrival of Silver Line trains, and relieve crowding. In brochures, public announcements and newspaper ads, Metro says the overall effect will be to improve service for about 110,000 riders.

Metro’s customers don’t care about the overall effect. All they know is that the transit authority is messing with their rides. So let’s go beyond the brochures and look at how the changes will affect each line on June 18.

(And in the coming days, look for more Rush Plus information on the Web at www.washingtonpost.com and on your mobile device at mobile.washingtonpost.com.)

Blue Line

There will be bigger gaps between Blue Line trains. Metro will withdraw some trains from the traffic jam at the Rosslyn tunnel by eliminating every third Blue Line train on the route between Franconia-Springfield in Virginia and Largo Town Center in Maryland.

This Monday morning, Blue Line trains are scheduled to arrive as usual to King Street station at 6:34, 6:40, 6:46. When Rush Plus begins the following Monday, they’re scheduled to arrive at 6:39, 6:45 and 6:57.

If you reach the platform just as the doors are closing on that 6:45 train, you won’t see another Blue Line train for 12 minutes because of the missing train.

This new gap at the Virginia stations is what worries Blue Line riders most, especially if their destinations are Rosslyn, via Arlington Cemetery, and on through the tunnel under the Potomac River to the west side of the District. But Metro also is adding trains to the Yellow Line, which serves some of those same Blue Linestations in Virginia before crossing the Potomac to L’Enfant Plaza. This should ease some of that angst among Blue Line riders, add service in the middle of the District, and make the whole ride more confusing.

Yellow Line

Metro is creating a new version of the Yellow Line to run between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt. Franconia-Springfield is normally a terminal for the Blue Line only and Greenbelt is normally a terminal for the Green Line only. The regular rush-hour service on the Yellow Line between Huntington and Mount Vernon Square will continue.

Transit officials have been working since 2008 on a plan to better serve the north-south corridor through the center of the District. “That’s where the cranes are,” Metro planner Jim Hughes would say in discussing the construction boom that has created more jobs and housing in that zone.

So if you live in Alexandria, Columbia Heights or College Park and work near Mount Vernon Square or L’Enfant Plaza, this is great. You’ll have more trains, and they should be less crowded.

But where does it leave those Blue Line riders who lost trains? Some who are heading to the center of the District clearly will be better off boarding a Yellow Line train for a shorter trip. For example, someone arriving at Franconia-Springfield during the morning rush on June 18 could board a Blue Line train for a trip of about 40 minutes to L’Enfant Plaza, or take a Rush Plus Yellow Line train for a ride of about 28 minutes.

Those who work on the west side of the District, near such stations as Foggy Bottom and Farragut West, could experiment with the Yellow Line trains. The Trip Planner on Metro’s Web site at www.wmata.com will tell you to take the Blue Line, as usual, and that means you don’t have to change trains. But Trip Planner doesn’t account for the possibility that you may arrive at a Virginia station at the start of one of those 12-minute gaps in Blue Line service.

Rather than killing time on the platform, you could board the next Yellow Line train, and transfer to westbound Blue or Orange lines at L’Enfant Plaza. Still, I think your best bet is to time your arrival for the period when two Blue Line trains are six minutes apart, rather than during the 12-minute gap, when you’ll probably see three Yellow Line trains in a row.

Orange Line

The infamous Orange Crush should be less crushy. Rush Plus will add three trains per hour between Vienna and Largo Town Center. The other Orange Line trains will operate along their current route between Vienna and New Carrollton.

That means more service for the very crowded platforms between Vienna and Court House. Even though Metro is removing three Blue Line trains per hour, the additional Orange Line trains mean that riders waiting between Rosslyn and Largo Town Center will have the same number of trains.

Riders traveling east of Stadium-Armory, where the Blue and Orange lines split, will need to pay special attention to the destination signs on the trains if they’re heading for stations between Stadium-Armory and Largo Town Center. They can take a Blue Line train as usual. But an Orange Line train with a “Largo” destination sign also will work for them.

Green Line

The Rush Plus changes do not affect service on the Green Line, but because more Green Line stations also will see Yellow Line trains, there are some things to keep in mind.

A rider who parks at Greenbelt or one of the other northern stations will have a transfer-free trip to Virginia stations along the Yellow Line’s Rush Plus route, including Reagan National Airport. Riders who wait for inbound Green Line trains at Fort Totten now will have the extra service provided by Rush Plus Yellow Line trains to reach downtown, the Pentagon, National Airport and Alexandria.

In the early evening, some Nationals fans, such as those parking at Greenbelt, may find themselves aboard Yellow Line trains where they used to see only Green Line trains. They’ll have to remember to transfer to the Green Line for Navy Yard station, or they’ll wind up in Virginia.

Red Line

The Red Line is not directly affected by Rush Plus, but Red Line riders who are transferring to the lines that are affected may need to adjust their travel schedules.

Travel tips

Understanding schedules: Enter your station and start time into the Metro Trip Planner , using a date after June 18. You’ll see the scheduled times for train departures under Rush Plus. Metro’s Next Train listings provide real-time information when you click on a station name on the Web site. The same information is available on a variety of mobile apps, including The Post’s DC Rider.

Hours: Rush Plus won’t operate during the entire peak period. The hours are 6:30 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays. So some rush hour commuters are not going to see the Rush Plus service.

Confusion: Rush Plus creates more potential for boarding the wrong train. Watch train destination signs, and hope they’re correct.

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