Missing connections on Metro

Saturday, March 19, 2011; 7:11 PM

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Metro's efforts to improve safety and infrastructure are right, but Metro doesn't do nearly as well with communications and coordination for its customers.

At Eastern Market last Sunday, the messages about trains going downtown via the single track changed six times in less than 15 minutes. Then the Green Line connection from L'Enfant Plaza left just as passengers arrived, rather than waiting one minute to coordinate.

How hard is it to manage such systems? We always hear the operator say the train is holding for schedule adjustment. Is that just for Metro's convenience or can we customers benefit?

- Peter Levine, the District

Dave Kubicek, Metro's acting deputy general manager for operations, said Metrorail does try to coordinate the arrival times of trains at transfer stations, not only for the convenience of individual riders but also because a smooth transition limits crowding on the platforms.

Clearly this doesn't work as smoothly as anybody wants. Missing a connection during rush hour isn't so bad, when another train will be along in several minutes. But on weekends, the sight of those red lights receding down a tunnel tells a rider he's in for a wait of maybe 20 minutes.

Kubicek said coordinating trains is made more difficult by the intensive weekend maintenance program. Last weekend and again this weekend, work zones have been set up on every line but the Green Line, so train schedules are disrupted.

The work included a complete shutdown of the Orange Line between East Falls Church and West Falls Church. While the work zone is far to the west of downtown Washington, the effects of the disruption on train schedules can ripple back along the line.

Here's my hope: Metro's planning and operations staffers have shown over the past several years of the track work program that they learn from experience. They try to accomplish several fixes at once when they set up a work zone. And the shuttle buses that get riders around work zones operate more efficiently than they used to. Perhaps Metro also will be able to master the communication and coordination needed to avoid missed connections.

HOV hours baffle driver

This letter follows up on our discussion about the use of Virginia's high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

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