Metro slows down Red Line trains during rail replacement

By Ann Scott Tyson and Nicole Norfleet
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Metro is slowing trains on portions of the Red Line to 15 mph while repairing a segment of track -- at least doubling the travel time and leading to rush-hour backups.

A Red Line train crawled along from Friendship Heights to Bethesda on Monday.

"They slowed down a lot," Jerome Houston said as he hurried to get to the Chevy Chase building where he works. Houston, 27, said the longer trip made him late for work Sunday.

The speed restriction adds at least two minutes to the trip between the two stations -- more during peak travel times, when more trains are passing through the area, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

Metro's goal is to increase speeds to 40 mph by midweek, but there are no guarantees, he said.

Crews discovered a strip of worn rails between Bethesda and Friendship Heights during a routine assessment last week, triggering an immediate effort to replace rails and fasteners each night. The speed restriction allows the replaced equipment to gradually adjust to passing trains.

"When you put in new rails, you don't automatically run trains at top speed," Taubenkibel said. "You have to let the rails settle as more trains run over it."

Other commuters said the delay was exacerbated by track maintenance between Grosvenor-Strathmore and Medical Center, where a 15 mph limit was also in effect. As of Monday afternoon, the speed had been increased to 40 mph.

There will be more delays between 10 p.m. Friday and midnight Sunday, when Metro will do track maintenance on the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Medical Center, according to the agency.

Metro officials said they had hoped to be running trains more quickly by Monday, but when that did not happen, they announced the speed restrictions.

"We plan to work overnight for the remainder of this week, and we will work all weekend between Friendship Heights and Medical Center," Taubenkibel said. "We apologize for any inconvenience this is causing for Red Line riders."

Ron Jensen, a rider from Bethesda, said he worries that such problems will cause more commuters to abandon Metro.

"The lurching of the train is very noticeable as the drivers struggle to maintain the slow speed. Very uncomfortable, especially on crowded trains," he wrote in an e-mail Monday.

But Jensen said he plans to stick with the rail system. "It's still the best option for me, but I hate to be taken advantage of and don't want to pay more to make up for the fees lost when people return to their cars," he wrote.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company