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An Easier Metro-Airport Connection

By Peter Finn and Sewell Chan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 20, 1997

The train to the plane finally arrived in Washington yesterday.

Owen Curtis, of Alexandria, took Metro to the open house at National Airport's new passenger terminal, and he was moved to utter words previously unheard among those who have taken rail to National for two decades: "It's convenient."

Drawn to see the new terminal but warned not to take their cars, thousands of Washington area residents rode Metro and discovered that the days of the 15-minute schlep from the train to the terminal are history.

"It was always such a haul, or you had to take that silly shuttle bus," Curtis said. "This is much better."

Passengers now descend one level by escalator or elevator and cross one of two passenger bridges into the new terminal. From platform to gate is a seven-minute walk. And, except for the train platform, it's all indoors.

"Excellent, really excellent," said Andrea Ryhanych, of Fairfax Station, who said she now will consider taking Metro to the airport instead of getting a ride. "It used to be a nightmare, just horrible, but now Metro is a real option."

Those sentiments are sweet music for airport officials.

"Today was a great test of the Metro-airport connection, and it works," said James A. Wilding, general manager of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs National and Dulles International airports.

"People can see how convenient it is, and I hope it changes minds about how to get to the airport."

According to airport officials, only 12 percent to 15 percent of travelers used to take Metro to the airport, but the authority expects that figure to rise to at least 20 percent.

The overwhelming majority of visitors yesterday took the Blue and Yellow lines to the airport open house. Only a trickle of visitors emerged from parking lots or free buses from the Pentagon, where the airport had offered free parking.

Metro station
Passengers leave the Metro station to approach the new terminal.
Juana Arias/TWP
"I thought parking might be a zoo, but there's no one here," said Michael Prince, of Woodbridge, who drove to the Pentagon North parking lot and took a bus to the terminal. He even walked up to Metro to see why everyone was using mass transit.

"This is great," he said as he stood on the passenger bridge.

The north entrance to the station opened at 8 a.m. sharp, and the first commuters to use the entrance arrived on a northbound Yellow Line train from Huntington station a few minutes later.

"This is the first time I've ever ridden the Metro into the airport," said Garrick Wang, of Vienna. "I hope I can use it more often."

About the only glitch during the day came about 9:30 a.m., when the down escalator from the southbound platform stopped running. The three other escalators began sputtering as well, and for a 20-minute period starting at 11 a.m., all four moving stairways were stopped. Officials were at a loss to explain the malfunction but said they shut off the escalators to control the crowd flow and for safety reasons.

"It's mechanical. They can break down just like your car," said Steven Leschnik, a rail transportation supervisor. A repairman from Schindler Elevator Corp. arrived at the station and said the breakdowns were caused in part by children mischievously slamming the plastic panel covering the emergency stop button at the top of the escalators.

By late afternoon, three of the four escalators were back in service.

Some riders were annoyed. "Today of all days," grumbled Della Buntin, a retired Foreign Service employee from Arlington who had to walk. "It's slowing everything down. I'm surprised they didn't work on opening day."

Others, such as Fred Peters, of Silver Spring, took the inconvenience in stride.

"I'm only 79, so I had no problem," he said.

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