By Robert Thomson
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 5:42 PM
For a couple of years now, Metro has been shutting rail stations on long holiday weekends to fix things that can't be fixed at other times. It would be nice if the riders could see them. "You can't see a crossover," lamented Jim Hughes, Metro's assistant director for planning the sort of disruption that's going to occur again over the Presidents' Day weekend.Two stations closed
A crossover is a switching point where the trains can cross from one track to another. They're vital in a two-track system where trains must sometimes share a single track to get around a stalled train or a work zone. Metro has replaced many of them at the urging of the National Transportation Safety Board. It's important work, but invisible to riders who know only that for the long weekend it took to complete the operation, the trains didn't take them to their destinations.
Next weekend, the transit authority will sever the Blue and Orange lines in the middle of Washington to complete one of these projects. Both the Smithsonian and Federal Triangle stations will be closed to replace four switches outside the Smithsonian Station that allow the trains to cross over the tracks. On some similar projects, only one station needs to be shut, but downtown, the stations are so close together that it's necessary to close two. Metro now tries to cluster as many projects as possible into the time when stations are shut, so workers also will be repairing escalators and elevators. "It's a fairly intense work effort in a short period of time," Hughes said last week. Here's what riders need to know.Cutting the lines
The Blue Line will operate between Franconia-Springfield and Metro Center, and between Largo Town Center and L'Enfant Plaza. The Orange Line will operate between Vienna and Metro Center, and between New Carrollton and L'Enfant Plaza.
All Blue and Orange Line trains will be scheduled to operate every 12 to 15 minutes during the daytime, and every 20 minutes at night. As usual, Metro will provide free shuttle buses to bridge the gap between the line segments.
The buses will operate between the stations at Metro Center (12th Street, north of G Street), Federal Triangle (12th Street, south of Pennsylvania Avenue), Smithsonian (Independence Avenue and 12th Street) and L'Enfant Plaza (Maryland Avenue).Last trains
Night owls will want to pay close attention to the last departure times so they don't miss transfers to the Red Line at Metro Center and to the Green and Yellow lines at L'Enfant Plaza.
For all trains to make their final connections with the last shuttle buses, the last passenger train on each rail line will depart to the end of the line 20 minutes earlier than usual. Metro advises late-night riders to arrive at their stations 20 to 30 minutes earlier than they normally would so they don't miss these last trains.Tips for travelers
Add an extra 40 minutes to your normal travel time if you plan to use the shuttle buses to bridge the gap. The shuttle system usually works well during these planned disruptions, but the waits are likely to be longest on Presidents' Day. That Monday won't be a holiday for everyone. Traffic and Metro ridership are likely to be heavier than on the weekend. Dress warmly if your trip includes a wait for a bus.
Riders who want to stick with the trains, rather than wait for a shuttle bus, can maneuver around the work zone by using other lines. At L'Enfant Plaza, they can transfer to the Green or Yellow lines north to Gallery Place and transfer to a Red Line train over to Metro Center, where they can switch back to the Blue and Orange lines. The reverse works, too. Transferring trains or riding the shuttle bus is likely to take about the same amount of extra time.
Consider walking as an alternative to train switching or bus riding. For those heading to the National Mall, it's several blocks north of L'Enfant Plaza Station on Seventh Street, or half a mile south of Metro Center on 12th Street.
Don't base your trip on the results from Metro's Trip Planner. This normally helpful planning tool found on Metro's Web site doesn't adjust for service disruptions.
Remember that the lines will be severed as of 10 p.m. Friday. The start of track work often confuses riders who come into town for an event early Friday night only to find that they cannot return home exactly the same way.