Silver Line will irk some commuters by putting new rail trip between their bus routes

October 30, 2013

There’s nothing as complex — and maybe as important right now in the Washington region’s transportation system — as the transit planning for the opening of Metro’s Silver Line early next year.

Scores of bus routes will be changed to draw travelers to the five new stations in Fairfax County. Most of them will be part of the Fairfax Connector service, but about a dozen are Metrobus routes.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Does Metro have any plans to link the 28X bus route to East Falls Church so it will connect with the new Silver Line?


A Fairfax Connector bus at the Burke Center VRE Station. In anticipation of the Silver Line, many bus routes — most on the Connector service — will change to accommodate Fairfax County’s new rail stations. But Metro has a tall order in pleasing all of its bus riders in that area. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

The 28X route between West Falls Church and the Mark Center/Baileys Crossroads is one of the best ideas Metro has had. It serves many commuters from the western suburbs who use the Fairfax Connector or other commuter lines to connect with the 28X at West Falls Church. The Silver Line will replace many of these bus routes, and it won’t stop at West Falls Church.

As a result, commuters to Baileys Crossroads and the Mark Center will have to backtrack on the Orange Line from the East Falls Church Silver Line stop to West Falls Church to connect with 28X.

Having the 28X stop at East Falls Church would accommodate commuters from the western suburbs and would be more convenient for commuters from the eastern suburbs.

Mark Haydu, Herndon

DG: The 28X is one of the limited-stop MetroExtra services introduced in recent years. They’ve been popular with commuters because they provide frequent service at rush hours, a more flexible alternative to some Metrorail lines and a quicker trip than the local buses that stop almost every block along the same routes.

Cousins of the 28X in Maryland and the District include the S9 on 16th Street NW and the 79 on Georgia Avenue/Seventh Street NW. Good on Metrobus for responding to customers’ needs with these options.

Silver Line archives

The latest coverage of Metro's Silver Line extension.

But Haydu’s letter illustrates just how diverse those needs are. When the Silver Line opens, a Herndon commuter will be able to take a Fairfax Connector bus to the line’s first-phase terminal at Wiehle Avenue in the Reston area, board the Silver Line, take it to the Tysons Corner station and board the 28X for the bus ride to Baileys Crossroads or the Mark Center.

If that’s what an eastbound commuter wants to do, there’s no need for diverting the 28X to the East Falls Church station to meet the Silver Line. They will meet in Tysons.

But that adds a train trip to what’s already a two-bus trip. The changes coming in the Fairfax Connector bus routes will help commuters from Herndon and Reston reach the nearby Silver Line station at Wiehle Avenue, but they will make travel to today’s bus hub at West Falls Church station less convenient.

In fact, Metro and Fairfax County planners need West Falls Church to become a less convenient access point for commuters, because there will be fewer rush-hour trains on the Orange Line segment serving West Falls Church once the Silver Line opens. If the same number of commuters go to the West Falls Church station as they do today, the remaining Orange Line trains will be even more crowded.

Although the overall service plan boosts transit access for the region, individual commuters won’t necessarily see it that way if it adds an extra connection to already long trips.

‘Doors closing’ rescue

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We are new residents of the District with children and grandchildren in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Consequently, we are frequent users of the Metro and have Senior SmarTrip cards. It is not easy to navigate the stations with inoperable escalators and unending construction.

Recently, as I was attempting to board a train, my bag and hand were caught in a closing door. Most elevators have a security system to reopen a closing door that has a safety sensor. However, had it not been for a very strong young man on the platform, I probably would not be writing this story. He pulled open the door to release my arm and bag.

And you are correct in saying communication with Metrorail is nonexistent or one-way. I was able to personally thank the man who saved me. Now, it is up to Metrorail to take action on preventing a repeat of this with another passenger.

Helen DiGiammarino,

the District

DG: Here is a rider who figured out how to complete the purchase of a Senior SmarTrip card — something that travelers tell me they find baffling — but bumped up against a part of the transit system that perplexes many more: the closing train doors.

That tells me the problem is with the train doors, not the rider.

Metro has found a way to deal with the matter, but it’s going to take a while. The solution is to buy new rail cars, starting with the ones scheduled to enter service in 2014.

The new cars’ design addresses many of the concerns riders have been writing in about for years. The doors are more robust, and the operator up in the cab will have much more information available for monitoring their performance. But when I got to see the inside of one new car under testing, this was my favorite part:

When I stuck my leg between the closing doors, they didn’t crush my foot. That would have been satisfying enough, but it got even better. The doors gently bounced back — up to a point.

They moved back far enough to let me extract my leg. (And in case you’re curious, you could probably pull back a briefcase or a stroller, too.) But they didn’t reopen completely. There will be no point in performing this experiment for the sake of holding the doors open for your buddies. There won’t be enough room to squeeze through before the doors reseal.

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