A graphic in Sunday's Metro section incorrectly listed the date for the planned opening of the Mount Vernon Square-UDC, Shaw and U Street stations on Metro's Green Line. They are scheduled to open next spring. (Published 9/18/90)
Metro extends the Red Line to its two newest and most distinctive subway stations on Saturday, going to a suburban enclave and a funky ethnic neighborhood to launch an expansion after a record four years since the last stop opened.
Forest Glen, outside the Capital Beltway in Silver Spring, is the deepest station in the planned 103-mile system, requiring high speed elevators instead of escalators to carry passengers in 20 seconds to trains 200 feet below Georgia Avenue. The Wheaton station, a mile down the street, has 230-foot escalators, the longest outside of Leningrad.
The stations look different from other stations too. They're brighter, with lower ceilings, and include separate platforms for outbound and inbound trains in two rooms connected by a center passageway. Passengers' ears will pop on the sloping train ride to the deep stations, and hair and clothing will be blown by a lusty wind as trains enter and exit the station at Forest Glen.
Metro's 62nd and 63rd stations tie the region to a suburban neighborhood right off the Beltway and to a district of ethnic restaurants and mom and pop businesses. So diverse is the area that transit brochures are translated into eight languages, including Farsi and Pushtu, an Afghan language. "Kiss and ride" in Pushtu?
The Forest Glen station is on the northwest and southwest corners of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road. The Wheaton station is on Georgia south of Reedie Drive, several blocks east of Wheaton Plaza shopping center.
By lengthening the Red Line 3.2 miles, Metro will add 22,400 passengers to its daily average of 513,000 riders and will alter travel patterns in a wide area of Montgomery County.
By the end of 1993, barring delays, the rail system will pick up as many as 137,000 more riders when it opens 11 more stations, including the first Green Line stops in the District and Prince George's County.
While passengers and transportation officials look forward to this spurt of activity, Metro's coming expansion is tempered by the knowledge that the transit agency will need $2.7 billion from Congress to complete the system and millions more to operate and maintain it. With the two new stations, which cost a total of $300 million to build, 73 miles of the system will be in operation.
"When you have new station openings, you tend to think everything is new and wonderful -- and it is -- but at the same time, these other needs are continuing," said Metro board Chairman Mary Margaret Whipple.
There are other problems. The governments that contribute to Metro's costs are experiencing money troubles. The agency had to borrow $25 million this month because the District government couldn't make its quarterly payment.
A shortage of rail cars looms next year after new stations are opened, and if additional money isn't found to repair the existing fleet, officials say, cars will become more crowded and trains will run less frequently.
That won't be a problem at first for passengers using the Forest Glen and Wheaton stations. Currently the Red Line, which runs between Silver Spring and Shady Grove through the District, has 34 trains and 180 cars during rush hour for its estimated 221,600 daily passengers.
When the new stations open, two six-car trains will be taken out of storage to handle the extra loads. Metro's car shortage won't become critical until the Anacostia station opens on the Green Line next year.
From Wheaton and Forest Glen, trains headed for Shady Grove will run every six minutes during rush hour. At other times, they will run every seven minutes.
Passengers who get on the trains at Silver Spring usually have found seats because the trains have originated there. Now that some trains will originate at Wheaton, Silver Spring commuters may worry about whether the trains will be crowded.
Metro officials don't think that will be a problem. Trains for Grosvenor still will originate at Silver Spring. And Silver Spring passengers will be able to catch a train every three minutes during rush hour.
Fady P. Bassily, Metro's rail manager, said officials will begin watching trains at crowded points along the Red Line, such as Union Station, to determine whether cars are becoming too crowded.
"We think adding the additional trains will take care of any problems from the start," he said. "If we're off, we can make an adjustment."
In many ways, Forest Glen and Wheaton represent a new generation of Metro stations being built with cost-cutting construction methods borrowed from the Austrians and Swedes. But there are special features of these stations that make them unique -- and in some cases drove up costs.
Their depth, for instance. Because the rock under the Beltway near Georgia Avenue is soft, engineers chose to dig the tunnels in harder, more solid rock deeper down. The track at Forest Glen is 196 feet down.
The stations' depth created challenges in determining the fastest way to convey passengers to the trains and how to protect them in a fire.
At Wheaton, which is 145 feet deep, a 229-foot escalator was installed that moves about 90 feet a minute.
Though Metro has had a long history of problems with escalators, the Wheaton escalator has a braking system that will stop less abruptly in an emergency. Officials also will urge passengers to hold the handrail and allow the stairs to move them instead of walking down.
At Forest Glen, which is 196 feet deep, escalators weren't practical, so elevators that carry up to 20 persons each were installed.
"The feeling was, it's so far underground that people wouldn't use escalators," said Robert S. Carpenter, Metro's fire protection officer.
The fire plan at Forest Glen aims to evacuate passengers by a train on the platform in the other train room.
Sprinklers, fans, smoke detectors and special signs have been installed, and Forest Glen will have two kiosks -- above ground and below -- that serve as command centers in an emergency.
As is the case with any addition to the Metro system, the new stations will force changes in traffic patterns.
Buses and private vehicles have been traveling on major roads such as Georgia Avenue and Route 29 (Colesville Road) to and from the Silver Spring station since it opened in 1978.
Some of that traffic will now be diverted to the new stations, reducing some bus and automobile traffic on Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road heading toward the Silver Spring station.
Metro and Montgomery County, which operates a Ride-On bus line, will establish 31 new or revised routes linking the new stations. Cross-county express bus service between Wheaton and Red Line stations on the Shady Grove line also will be added.
Two parking garages are being built at Wheaton. The 600-space garage on Amherst Avenue north of Reedie is supposed to be open next week. The 900-space garage west of Viers Mill Road will be partly completed by next week. A temporary pedestrian overpass will link the station with the garage until the permanent structure is finished later this year.
Plans to hook the parking garage to the shopping center with an overpass have been held up because of a legal dispute between Metro and the owners of Wheaton Plaza, who allege Metro illegally took the land for the parking garage and will create problems for the mall by luring people to the center's free lot to park.
Forest Glen will have a 582-space parking lot. Because the demand at both stations will outstrip the available parking, a 1,800-space garage will be built by 1992 at the planned Glenmont station, the scheduled terminus of the Red Line, on Georgia Avenue north of Layhill Road. From there, passengers will be shuttled to Wheaton.
Despite these measures, the new stations are hardly a cure for Montgomery's overall traffic problems. When Metro was planned in the 1960s, officials assumed most of the region's commuters would be going into the District. That's no longer true.
"As the months and years go by, the growth in traffic has been cross-county, not north-south," said Ralph Graeves, a Wheaton business leader who has lived there about 60 years.
State and local officials have proposed a trolley line between Bethesda and Silver Spring and a new highway between Route 1 in Prince George's and Interstate 270 in Montgomery to accommodate some of the cross-county traffic.
Still, the new stations will give thousands of people in the eastern third of Montgomery another option to driving to work or taking a bus.
"I'd love to shut down the Red Line for one day and have 125,000 people get in cars," said Robert S. McGarry, Montgomery's transportation director, referring to the number of Red Line riders in Montgomery. "Then you'd see what the Red Line does for us."