Area residents relying on Metro trains as a last-ditch savior to deliver them through yesterday's storm were forced to wait up to two hours at stations as snow and ice delayed some trains and took others out of service.
Although ridership was about half the usual Sunday volume, crowded trains were a common sight after delays began to mount in the morning. By 1 p.m., Metro announced that trains would pass through stations at a rate of one an hour. Later, service was curtailed still further, and a Metro spokesman said trains would run every two hours beginning at 7 p.m.
Officials described the delays as rare and attributed them to two main issues: the tedious task of de-icing outdoor tracks and the slower speeds trains were forced to travel.
"We know it's an inconvenience for customers, but we're going to err on the side of caution to move customers in a safe manner," said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. "The fact is that even though the trains are going every hour, we still are providing service."
He said Metro planned to begin rail service today at 8 a.m. and run trains every half-hour on all lines. Times of train arrival at each station were posted on the Internet yesterday.
Some passengers waited out the delays yesterday, but others gave up, abandoning efforts to buy groceries, go shopping or visit friends.
Gabrielle Chodes of Foggy Bottom wanted to return an item at a store in Friendship Heights, so she walked to the Dupont Circle station at 1 p.m. After waiting for the train about 15 minutes, she heard an announcement that the next train would come in 20 more minutes.
"I waited five more minutes and then I just said, 'Forget it!' " Chodes said. Because the escalator was broken, she was forced to make a steep, wet climb out of the station. "I was afraid of getting stuck somewhere else because of these delays. . . . I'm going to stop by the store for some milk, and then I'm not leaving home again."
Metro workers used diesel-powered "scraper trains" to clear outdoor tracks, only to have to redo them as the snow continued to fall, said Lem Proctor, Metro's chief operating officer for rail.
By 4 p.m., at least six Metro trains were out of service because of weather-related problems, seven buses had been involved in minor accidents and 200 buses had gotten stuck in snow, officials said. Ridership between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. totaled about 49,000, compared with an average of about 103,000 on a normal Sunday, Taubenkibel said.
While some passengers took the delays in stride, others said they were frustrated.
"There were no announcements about the delays until we were waiting at the platform," said Jeff Duffy, who waited 45 minutes at Gallery Place to ride two stops on the Red Line to Farragut North. "We did hear Yellow and Green line trains coming through, but that only made us more frustrated."
In Vienna, at least one train was taken out of service, and a Metro worker was seen trying to pry open two sets of doors on different cars. Another car's doors would not close, according to an observer, while passengers waited fruitlessly for the train to begin moving and even were spotted trying to clear away snow near the doors.
Although Metro has shut down outdoor stations and operated only below ground during past storms, officials at the Metro command center chose not to put that plan into effect yesterday, Taubenkibel said.
Metro had not had significant snow-related delays throughout its system of trains in many years. Although nearly paralyzed during the blizzard of 1996, Metro performed much better in recent years, after $1.4 million of snow equipment was purchased after that storm.
In January 2000, Metro trains rolled uneventfully through a storm that dumped eight inches of snow on the region.
At Farragut North, Matt Riddleberger and Maria Wilkes wanted to go to College Park. They debated whether to wait for the Red Line train to take them to the Green Line or to simply walk to the nearest Green Line station. They chose the latter, hoofing it about 20 minutes.
"We don't mind," Riddleberger said cheerfully. "I'm visiting from Jacksonville, Fla., so it's been a long time since I've been in weather like this. I'm enjoying it."
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.