Metro to Test Plan to End Orange Line Bottleneck

Some trains on the Orange Line, at Arlington's Court House station above, will have eight cars beginning in January.
Some trains on the Orange Line, at Arlington's Court House station above, will have eight cars beginning in January. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005

Metro will soon add cars to some Orange Line trains but make runs less frequently during morning rush hours in an attempt to eliminate bottlenecks in the Rosslyn tunnel.

The Metro board of directors voted yesterday to try the experiment for six months, running two fewer Orange Line trains in the morning but increasing the length of some trains from six to eight cars.

Also yesterday, the board appointed 21 people to serve on its new Riders Advisory Council. The group includes representatives of the District, Maryland and Virginia, as well as two at-large members and a representative of the system's Elderly and Disabled Transportation Advisory Committee.

The goal of the Orange Line change, which will take effect in mid- to late January, is to eliminate annoying pauses for riders as trains halt in darkness to let another Blue or Orange line train go through the shared tunnel at Rosslyn.

Metro's current schedule calls for 29 Blue and Orange trains to pass through Rosslyn during the morning rush. In reality, on average only 26 get through on time, meaning trains back up and experience slight delays almost every morning, Metro managers said. With the longer trains, they said, the Orange Line will be able to carry the same number of passengers during the busy early hours.

"This is the message -- less time stuck," said Metro board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman, who said he has frequently experienced the unsettling feeling of sitting in a stopped train deep beneath the Potomac River heading into Rosslyn.

Earlier this year, a panel of independent transit experts recommended that Metro run longer trains less often to improve service at several such knots in the system. If the experiment works well, Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White told the board, it might be expanded to other lines.

With two fewer trains, the average morning wait for the Orange Line would increase only 15 seconds, too little to be noticeable, said Jim Hughes, Metro's acting assistant general manager of operations.

Susan Bupp, who started riding the Orange Line to work regularly from Courthouse to McPherson Square just a week ago, said she has already noticed the tunnel stops.

"To me, it's just a part of the regular process of riding. But if this would alleviate it, it's worth a shot," she said.

The move also was applauded by an Orange Line rider newly appointed to the Riders Advisory Council. Stephen Cerny, a Reston lawyer, said he has noticed minor delays about once a week on his commute.

"Obviously, you want as efficient a system as possible," he said.

Among the other members of the council, which will begin meeting in January, are both regular commuters and occasional users of buses and trains. They were chosen from among 940 people who submitted applications. Included in the group is William Justin Chittams, a 10th grade student at the District's School Without Walls, who rides both the subway and a Metrobus from his home in Southeast Washington to school each day.

On the flip side, the panel will also include Sharon Conn, a Prince George's resident who works at the Career Blazers Learning Center vocational school in the District. She said she hears from her students when they arrive late because of system delays. "We have to keep on top of Metro," she said.

Don Paduo, a graduate student at Georgetown University who is blind, said he decided to apply after submitting a series of recommendations to Metro on how to make the system more friendly to the visually impaired.

"The signage and lighting is pretty terrible," he said.

The council is the culmination of efforts to give riders a greater say in the system, Kauffman said.

"The new window we have opened will not only shed light on [Metro's] inner workings, it will also afford the board a clearer view to the world of our customers," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company