Metro riders quickly lose faith in promise for 8-car trains

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a daily rider of the Orange Line from West Falls Church to Farragut West. My ride in the morning begins on the 7:50 train. It arrives at West Falls Church on most days already SRO, and West Falls Church is the third stop from the start of the run. By the time the train reaches Ballston -- just two stops farther along -- the train is obscenely packed.

At each succeeding station, the doors open and no one can wiggle on, let alone wiggle out. Yet it has been announced that there could be longer waits between trains. If this does happen, what is the incentive to ride the train?

Metro officials also say they might do away with eight-car trains (the signs are still up in West Falls Church: Coming soon -- eight-car trains in the morning) or raise prices. People are willing to pay for service, dependability, safety, reliability (some of the adjectives that might no longer apply to a Metro train), yet if prices are raised and the standards are not, ire results.

Public transportation does not work without the public. I think Metro is shooting itself in the foot when it is not accountable to its ridership.

-- Sue Kennedy, McLean

As you see elsewhere on this page, Metro has many options for closing its current budget shortfall. Metro did not promise us two entrances at every station or certain service hours or that bus routes would remain unchanged. But eight-car trains? That was different.

That was about as close to a promise as Metro gets.

One of the goals of "Metro Matters," the long-term capital-improvement program that Metro's supporting governments signed up to finance, was to relieve crowding by having 50 percent of peak-hour trains operating with eight cars. The Metro board was reminded of that goal in an April 2009 staff presentation, which further noted that "50% eight-car train operation is now possible on all Metrorail lines."

In fact, Metro's reports to the board and public over the past five years refer frequently to the promise of eight-car trains as a result of the taxpayers' commitment to the future of the transit system.

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