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Crowds a Hazard As Metro, Riders Brace for Crunch

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, March 30, 2008

This letter illustrates why Metro was right to temporarily suspend its weekend track-work program, which for several months this winter created extensive delays on the Red Line. But it also shows the danger of crowding at any time.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here is my pet peeve, and it's a safety issue, too. For some time, Red Line and other trains have been running slowly on the weekends. We waited for quite some time at Gallery Place for a Glenmont train.

When a train arrived, it was packed, but most of the passengers were getting off. However, the train conductor was unwilling to wait for everyone to get off, let alone for anyone to get on. It really looked like exiting passengers were going to be separated from their friends and families who could not get off and that all the people waiting would be left on the platform. People held the doors, and most people managed to get on, but it was a very dangerous situation.

At least the train operator did not lecture us. The last time this happened, we were treated to a lecture on what horrible passengers we were. It's not like another train was going to pull in anytime soon. I think Metro needs to instruct operators on delayed weekend trains to let everyone get on and off.

Carolyn Bayer

Silver Spring

Metro says it puts extra staff on the platforms to aid passengers and ensure safety during periods of great crowding, yet these incidents continue. An operator at the far end of a six- or eight-car train isn't enough to avoid problems on a busy platform.

Passengers shouldn't try to hold the doors open, because a busted door could force the unloading of the entire train. But those after-action lectures from train operators are not helpful, either. The target audience is still seething from a platform skirmish in which people desperate to get off collided with people desperate to board.

The weekend track work program is suspended through April 13. We're beginning a rough period, when cherry blossom tourists, baseball fans and commuters will do a lot of forced mingling. This will test Metro's management skills as well as riders' patience and fortitude.

Ice Storm Aftermath

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I see that Commissioner David S. Ekern admits that the Virginia Department of Transportation was caught unprepared for the primary day storm. I was fascinated by his statement that "we'll learn from this and move forward." The simple fact that it was not his replacement making that statement tells me that nothing will be improved.

Holding someone accountable, perhaps even losing a job after demonstrated incompetence, is the only way to "move forward."

Dave Wolf

Lake Ridge

The letter-writer's wife was stuck in the Springfield interchange traffic for more than four hours, as were thousands of others.

Nothing about VDOT's performance during the Feb. 12 ice storm inspired confidence. But Ekern's response is at least promising.

He reported back to the public in a timely fashion, citing changes in management and equipment that VDOT either had made or planned to make to prevent disasters.

And he has scheduled a public meeting for 6:30 p.m. April 22 at the Waterford at Springfield, 6715 Commerce St., Springfield. We're likely to be better off with someone who can learn from a mistake -- even a big mistake -- than to start all over again with a new crew.

Planning the Papal Visit

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Is the Navy Yard Metro station going to be available to access the new stadium for Pope Benedict XVI's visit April 17? Does Metro plan to run additional trains that day?

George Vincent

Bowie

The transit authority says it's ready to carry 25,000 people to the papal Mass at Nationals Park. The rebuilt Navy Yard Station entrance on the Green Line, which Metro says can handle 15,000 passengers an hour, is essential to the day's success.

Metrorail plans to operate normal rush-period service from when it opens at 5 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. Worshipers are scheduled to arrive early for the 10 a.m. Mass, and Metro calculates that the greatest stress on the system will develop before 8 a.m.

After Mass ends at noon, Metro will add extra trains on the Green Line, all six or eight cars long.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in the Extras and Sunday in the Metro section. You can send e-mails todrgridlock@washpost.com. Include your name, home community and phone numbers.

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