Last week, Washington Post staffers became commuters and raced each other by car and public transportation along several typical commuting routes. Today's report compares commuting by car and the combination of train and subway from burgeoning Gaithersburg in northern Montgomery County, to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the high-rise federal office center in southeast Washington .
Start: 7:25 a.m. at the train station at Summit Avenue and Diamond Avenue in Gaithersburg.
Finish: Department of Housing and Urban Development building at 7th and E Streets SW.
Car: 63 Minutes.
Train and subway: 77 minutes.
Inside the Gaithersburg train station, a tiny red brick Victorian structure with a gray, arched tile roof, dozens of people were seated along the white wooden benches and standing near a large heater resembling an old-fashioned wood-burning stove. Like me, they are waiting for the 7:31.
At precisely 7:40, the commuters - most carrying newspapers and briefcases, many carrying Christmas packages and shopping bags - began filing out to the tracks. At 7:31, a whistle blew and the train's headlight came into sight around a curve.
There were about 100 people waiting to get on.
I took a seat in the last car. Everyone found a place on one of the plastic, black-and-brown covered seats, which hold two people comfortably and permit a third person to squeeze in. The interior was a dull beige, the floors covered with white and blck tiles - a very boring, sleep-including environment.
We passed some of the old, white painted wooden houses in the center of Gaithersburg and reached our first stop, Washington Grove, at 7:34 as the sun became a great orange bowl in the sky. We were right on schedule.
We passed a pasture with cows and more shingled houses. A young Gaithersburg woman who works in Silver Spring told me how empty the train was. "We were like sardines yesterday . . . A lot of people have taken off already for the holidays."
From there on, the monotony of the commuter's ride became apparent: warehouse and more warehouses, garages, parking lots, and occasionally, the backs of houses. Most people stare straight ahead or read the newspaper. Only the chain of antique stores outside Kensington provide a bit of diversion.
For the next four stops - Garret Park, Kensington, Forest Glen and Silver Spring - the train moved quickly an darrived at its destination either exactly on time or a munute ahead. By Kensington, all the seats in my car were taken and people were sitting three across on the narrow seats.
It was worse in the front and back cars, my seat neighbor told me: "I know a lady who gets on in Kensington and always gets on a front car. She's been riding the train for 29 years and I don't think she's ever gotten a seat."
About 89 people rode in my car from Gaithersburg to Silver Spring, where about a quarter of them got off.
The people across from me, who got an at Garret Park, complained that most days they have to stand with other people in the baggage car in the back, which the commuters refer to as the cattle car.
We arrived at Union Station one minute ahead of schedule or at 8:17. Then came delays with the Metro subway.
I wanted to purchase a farecard with one dollar. There were about four people ahead of me in line. Then, as I began pressing the wrong button trying to subtract 60 cents from my dollar (and buy a 40-cent farecard), a woman behind me gently nudged me aside and bought my farecard for me.
A subway train that finally came at 8:30 arrived four minutes later at Metro Center, where I had to switch to a train heading to L'Fant Plaza.After a 10-second walk to the lower track level, I waited 12 minutes for the train to come. It was 8:46 when I got on the subway train and it arrived at L'Enfant Plaza at 8:48. It took a minute to walk to the HUD building.