The Red Line Slog
How much longer must riders endure crowded trains and long commutes?

Friday, July 3, 2009

METRO RIDERS won't soon forget June 22. That's the day a crash on the Red Line claimed nine lives, injured 80 and shattered many riders' assumptions about the safety of the system. Nearly two weeks later, as transit officials scramble to figure out what went wrong, things are still far from normal on the Red Line. Trains have been operated manually at about 35 mph -- well below normal speeds. Commutes have become excruciatingly long. Rush-hour riders lucky enough to board a train barely have enough room to turn the pages of a book or newspaper. Recognizing the exceptional circumstances and the need for safety precautions, most riders have gritted their teeth and been patient. But many commuters are left wondering: When will things get better?

As early as this weekend, Metro officials say. In preparation for the crush of riders traveling to the Mall for tomorrow's July 4 fireworks, Metro, in consultation with the National Transportation Safety Board, will allow Red Line trains to travel at regular speeds and will add more eight-car trains, starting today. Trains will still slow to a crawl at the accident site between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations, where an investigation is ongoing and only one train can pass at a time. Under the best circumstances, Metro strains to handle the swarm of riders on July 4; this year, waits will be longer than usual, Metro officials warn. But, with Red Line trains traveling at regular speeds, the trip should be bearable.

And after this weekend? Metro officials warn that Red Line train speeds could be restricted again, depending on the NTSB investigation. Trains will be under manual control "for several months," according to Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. That means jerky rides and abrupt stops but not necessarily a slower commute. Metro's other four lines have been under manual control since the accident, but trains are operating at nearly normal speeds. Metro has been unable to start the usual alternate trains at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Station, further contributing to delays; it's unclear when that will change. It's also likely that trains will continue pulling to the end of platforms.

In other words, the excruciating delays on the Red Line should be reduced, but it might be a while before travel returns to normal. More patience is a lot to ask of commuters, but as Susan Hedges, a Rockville resident and regular Red Line rider, reminded us in a recent letter to The Post, "Metro riders are a community. Every day I see acts of consideration and kindness. The train operator, head out the window, sees me running and waits. A young man offers his seat. I wake up my seatmate when we reach the end of the line." Continued "acts of consideration and kindness" are more important than ever as riders grapple with delays.

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