Heavy Green Line Delays During Outage

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A faulty piece of track circuitry knocked out power to four trains on the Green Line during yesterday's morning rush, causing major delays and massive confusion as riders were turned away from stalled trains and packed stations.

The problems began just before 7 a.m. when a six-car train lost power approaching Fort Totten. An empty train pushed it one stop to West Hyattsville, where passengers got off. Both empty trains were heading toward Greenbelt when they lost power again, officials said.

A third empty train tried to push those two trains, but it also lost power. A fourth empty train was sent to help, and it too lost power about 8:20 a.m. Finally, track equipment that does not run on electricity was used to move all the trains to Greenbelt.

The worst backups were at the Prince George's Plaza, West Hyattsville and Fort Totten stations. Delays became so extensive that Metro allowed passengers to exit free at the same Green Line station they entered during the morning hours and took the unusual step of allowing free rides for passengers exiting any Green Line station during the afternoon rush.

Service was disrupted until about 12:30 p.m. as Metro ran trains on a single track while repairing the circuitry, which was part of a power substation near Fort Totten. Workers are inspecting track circuitry in other areas of the system to ensure that a similar occurrence does not take place, Metro officials said.

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., who noted that some Metro managers also were caught in the delay, apologized to riders. "At some point, an apology is not enough," he added.

It wasn't enough for some frustrated longtime commuters, who described scenes of confusion and anger.

"I've been riding Metro for 31 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Barbara Runion, 53. Runion was turned away from the Prince George's Plaza station about 8:25 a.m. because too many people were on the platform. By the time she was let into the station about 8:40 a.m., trains going in her direction were no longer running beyond the station, causing hundreds more riders to bail out onto the platform.

"It was a zoo, an absolute zoo," she recalled. Runion decided to drive to New Carrollton and take the Orange Line. But not before paying $3.50 to exit the Prince George's Plaza lot, further angering her. Since the problems were nearly two hours old by then, someone from Metro should have put up a sign to warn people before they entered the parking facility, she said.

By the time she reached New Carrollton, that parking lot was full. She eventually parked at a distant lot and had to walk three-fourths of a mile in 90-plus-degree heat to the station. She arrived at her downtown office about 11 a.m., sweaty, frustrated and two hours late.

At the West Hyattsville Station, some angry riders on the platform shouted, "Down with Metro." A confused hearing-impaired rider implored others for help. No employees were on hand to tell riders what to do. By 8 a.m., many riders had given up and left.

Many passengers complained that Metro didn't provide enough information about the delays or guidance on what they should do.

Transit officials said that 33 shuttle buses transported passengers among Prince George's Plaza, West Hyattsville and Fort Totten and that four buses provided service between L'Enfant Plaza and Anacostia. The buses carried about 5,000 passengers, officials said.

But riders said Metro didn't provide enough staff to explain what was going on.

"I know trains break down, and I can deal with that," said Brandon Moffitt, 21, who was traveling from College Park to Crystal City. "But the thing that aggravated me was that no one knew what to do or where to go. They could have had a better kind of a backup plan."

In a separate incident, a Blue Line train also lost power yesterday after 8:30 a.m. between the Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn stations. Officials said they don't believe the two power failures were related.

In a scheduled meeting with reporters to mark his first 100 days in the job, Catoe said the incidents highlight the problems of an aging infrastructure in need of major upgrades.

Many of Metro's parts are so old and outdated that staff have to "search all over the world" for replacements, he said. "It's like getting a tube for a black-and-white television. You can't just walk into a CVS and get one."

Staff writer Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.

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