Rail Cars to Be Added During Rush Hour

Riders wait for a Yellow Line train to depart Pentagon City. All four-car trains operating during rush hour will be lengthened by the end of the month.
Riders wait for a Yellow Line train to depart Pentagon City. All four-car trains operating during rush hour will be lengthened by the end of the month. (By Jacquelyn Martin -- Associated Press)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Metro plans to run longer trains on the Blue Line by the end of the month to ease crowding on platforms and in cars on one of the least reliable routes in the system, officials said yesterday.

Because Metro deploys its trains based on ridership, the Blue Line, which carries fewer passengers than the Red and Orange lines, has been operating with some four-car trains during rush hour while higher-ridership lines run six- and eight-car trains. The Yellow Line has one four-car train during rush hour.

By the end of the month, all four-car trains will have six cars during peak periods as the transit agency adds 18 rail cars to its rush-hour service, bringing its total to 800 cars during the peak period. Metro is able to add cars because 106 of its new rail cars are now in service.

The Blue Line runs between Prince George's and Fairfax counties and stops at some of the most heavily used stations in downtown Washington, including Smithsonian and Metro Center. Last fiscal year, Blue Line riders experienced a 37 percent increase in delays from the previous year, the second-biggest jump of any of the five lines, according to Metro statistics.

The Green Line, with fewer daily riders, had a 40 percent increase in delays.

The 225 delays on the Blue Line were caused by a host of problems, including malfunctioning train doors and track and mechanical problems. There were 164 such delays the previous year, according to Metro figures. Not included in those numbers were recent fire and smoke incidents, caused in part by a power outage near the station for Reagan National Airport on the Blue Line, that hobbled most of the system for two days late last month.

Crowding has been a constant complaint for Blue and Yellow line passengers.

"Blue and Yellow line riders are justifiably tired of getting black and blue trying to squeeze into four-car trains," said T. Dana Kauffman, a Metro board member who represents Fairfax County. "As a regular Yellow Line and occasional Blue Line passenger myself, I'm looking forward to finding room to breathe and maybe even a seat."

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said the agency will closely monitor the additional rail service on the Blue and Yellow lines in light of the recent power outages in Northern Virginia. Metro lost power at one of its substations along the Blue and Yellow lines, which triggered a shortage that rippled through the system, stalling trains and forcing thousands of irritated and bewildered passengers to search for other ways home.

"We are confident that we will be able to provide quality service by adding six-car trains to the Blue and Yellow lines, and this will go a long way in offering a viable and welcome alternative to driving," he said.

Overall, the Metro system had 13 percent more service disruption delays in fiscal 2007, which ended June 30, than the year before, with 1,057, up from 932. The agency records delays that last longer than two minutes. The increase in delays well outpaces the growth in ridership, which rose 1 percent last year from the previous year.

Catoe said many of the agency's problems had to do with the deterioration of aging systems that have not been adequately maintained. He likened the system's problems to a homeowner's 30-year-old leaky roof. Over time, as problems arose, Metro personnel would fix the immediate crisis, much like "plugging a leak" in the roof.

But now it's time, he said, for Metro to "fix the entire roof."

Staff writer David S. Fallis and database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

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