Let us listen for a momemt to an Orange Line commuter who was caught Wednesday in a delay on the Ballston leg in Arlington. "The part I didn't like," he said, after being stuck short of the Court House station by a train that broke down ahead, was that he didn't get word of what the problem was or what the delay might be. (It turned out to be more than a half hour.)
He is in a position to do something about this problem. He is Theodore G. (Tad) Weigle Jr., Metro's deputy general manager. Weigle was on his way home to Virginia when the Blue Line and then the track-sharing Orange Line broke down.
As it happened, someone who talked to me later was on the train that broke down ahead of the one Weigle was riding. She said that her train got stuck in the tunnel beyond Court House and backed up to that station. The only announcements, she said, were that "we are experiencing trouble."
Although she had a car ride waiting at the next station, Clarendon, she debarked, along with other puzzled riders, and rode an inbound train to Rosslyn, where she caught a cab home. Her patient "ride" at Clarendon finally called and found she had long since arrived home.
Ballston-bound trains, meantime, "wrong-railed" their way around the disabled train and Weigle, among others, got to Ballston.
That's to the good. But wait just one moment!
Many Metro commuters make trips that combine rail and bus travel. Thousands of outbound evening commuters try to catch buses that run every 30 or 60 minutes, or even less frequently, and which leave outer rail terminals on schedule. The result is that delayed train passengers find that they've missed either an infrequent or -- worst of all -- the last bus they can catch home.
The alternatives: call the spouse to come to the railhead, or a costly cab trip home. A few instances like these, and Metro can count on losing a passenger forever.
"Anytime that you're caught on a stalled train more than a minute or two," Weigle told me, "you [Metro] want to let people know what is happening."
Moreover, at Ballston, he said, a bus supervisors' kiosk is being erected for contact with the downtown operations center. If trains are delayed, the bus supervisor is to be called and instructed to hold the buses for the train passengers.
Of course, Weigle said, there will be problems: people already on the buses waiting for them to leave will doubtless resent the wait.
But, as Weigle said, "The heart of making the [Metro] rail system effective is the bus [feeder] system." Amen!