Post-Crash Metro Service Tests Red Line Riders

Red Line trains in both directions appear to be on schedule during rush hour.
Red Line trains in both directions appear to be on schedule during rush hour. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By James Hohmann and Greg Gaudio
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Two weeks after a fatal Metro crash, many riders on the Red Line still complain of longer commutes and train cars too crowded to board during rush hour.

Trains have been operating at normal speeds across the Red Line since Friday, except between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations. Metro officials added a few trains to the line during last night's rush hour to relieve congestion as some passengers who had stayed away returned to the line. Riders have taken an estimated 119,000 fewer trips on the Red Line overall since the June 22 crash that killed nine and injured 80, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said yesterday.

But fewer trains and the use of a single track between Takoma and Fort Totten still are causing backups.

In dozens of interviews, riders complained about cramped conditions on the trains, although some acknowledge that delays should be expected after the crash.

"Every day, I think it'll get better, and then each day, it's not," said Mark Palmer, 27, during an extended wait at the Adams Morgan-Woodley Park Station.

Others say they sometimes watch three or more full trains pass before they can board one during peak travel periods. Yesterday, between 8 and 9:30 a.m., a few dozen people at many stations were left waiting as packed trains closed the doors and continued on.

"I want to take the Metro, but I wish they'd get their act together a little faster, because everybody's patience is wearing thin," Jane Feller, 47, said as she gave up trying to squeeze into a train at the Tenleytown-AU Station about 8:30 a.m.

Some riders, tired of watching full trains pass, head away from their final destination downtown toward the suburbs to board a train with room farther up the line, then head back toward the heart of the District.

Caroline Platt, a 34-year-old lawyer who lives in Adams Morgan, had been using the Green Line since the accident. It added about 15 minutes to her normal commute, but she thought it was prudent. "I was concerned about delays," she said. She ventured back to the Red Line yesterday and found that the time between trains was longer than she expected.

Although there's a little extra yelling and a lot less elbow room, most people say the crowds have remained civil.

Taubenkibel said there are "anecdotal" reports of shoving and yelling on the line, but he said there has not been an increase in incidents reported to transit police. "Nothing out of the ordinary," he said, acknowledging that passengers might not call police about some issues.

Metro closed the Takoma Station again last night at 10 to continue the investigation and planned to close it again tonight. Buses will continue to shuttle riders to the stations at Fort Totten and Silver Spring during the closures.

Meanwhile, more riders used Metro on Saturday than on any previous Fourth of July. The agency said yesterday that ridership was 631,206, surpassing last year's record by 32,308.

Regulars say the Monday after the Fourth of July weekend tends to be slower, as commuters trickle back from vacation. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday tend to be the busiest days. That might mean more congestion today and later in the week.

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