The Metro subway had another wretched rush hour yesterday morning with three major train breakdowns that caused delays of more than 30 minutes for thousands of commuters.
And in the evening, a man fell on the tracks at the McPherson Square station and a quick-moving attendant turned off the electricity before the man was hurt. There were 32 minutes of intermittent power interruptions resulting from that incident.
The morning rush hour was worse. Two trains stalled at different times in the tunnel between Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery and the passengers from one of them had to be transferred to a "rescue train." Another train quit in the Foggy Bottom station and the passengers were discharged there. The combined incidents snarled morning schedules as delays rippled through the system.
Yesterday's problems served to increase public dissatisfaction with Metro caused both by subway breakdowns and the major realignment of the bus schedules.Because Washington area politicans wanted to reduce transit costs by eliminating parallel bus and subway service, many people have been forced to take what has proved to be slower, more inconvenient, more expensive public transportation.
"I have been late to work several times," said Dennis Bevans, a Federal Energy Administration employee who was caught in the broken train at Foggy Bottom. "I just can't rely on Metro like I could on the bus to get to work on time if I have an early appointment. Many people on the trains say they are losing credibility with their employers because they're late to work so often."
Some persons have suggested in letters to Metro general manager Theodore Lutz that the transit authority issue "late cards" to delayed passengers so they can prove to their employers that a transit breakdown occurred.
Longtime bus commuters who once had reliable, if less spectacular, single-vehicle transportation from outlying areas to downtown are complaining en masse to Metro's switchboard.
For D.C. residents, cutbacks of the old Benning Road and H Street bus lines at Union Station has meant 30-to 40-cent fare penalty as well as an interrupted trip.
Charles Fizer, who heads the complaint section for Metro, said, "We are getting complaints from a section of town we have never heard from before," far Northeast Washington east of the Anacostia River. "Some of the people sound destitute talking about the extra cost . . . But they didn't go to the public hearings." Hearings on all the fare changes were held throughout the Washington area months ago.
Train difficulties and fares are not the only problems. "I can understand mechanical failures," said John Corris, the Washington spokesman for Trans World Airlines and a long-time bus commuter. "But there are some things I can't understand. Sometimes a train will unload at Rosslyn in the evening and there will be two escalators going down and only one going up just the opposite of what it should be.
"Then you get to the farecard gates. There will be only two outbound gates, and everybody trying to get through them, and seven or eight inbound gates and nobody using them." THe gates are reversible. Corris estimates his commuting has increased by 15 to 20 minutes a day since he has had to transfer from a bus-only ride.
The automatic fare-collecting system Metro uses requires the transit rider to buy a card from vending machines that frequently do not work, then insists that the riders go through gates both to enter and to leave the subway.
Like most machines, farecard refuses to recognize changing circumstances.
Yesterday morning, for example, People magazine's Clare Crawford used her farecard to enter the Farragut West station. As soon as she got inside, the loudspeaker announced that the trains would be delayed because of breakdowns.
"There were about 100 of us on the platform and everybody wanted to get back out," Crawford said. "But they wouldn't let us out without paying the fare, even though they could see we hadn't ridden the train. Some people were ready to fight. The Metro employees were the most obtuse bureaucrats in the world."
The Metro employees made everybody leave through an exit gate, which deducted 40 cents from the magnetically encoded farecard.
Such a maneuver is necessary, if irritating. If Metro had just let people leave the station with their farecards, they would have been stopped by the machine the next time they tried to enter. That is because the computer-controlled farecard gates will not accept a card that does not have an exit mark as its last entry in its memory.
"What the employees should do is send the people through the exit gates, then give them a pass for one free ride," said Nicholas Roll, executive assistant to Lutz and the man who is primarily responsible for Metro's day-to-day operations.
Roll was appointed by Lutz this week to head a task force to find out what is wrong with Metro's operations and solve the problems.
"The problem we have to overcome is the reliability of the trains," Roll said. "If the trains ran on schedule all the time, there would not be those enormous crowds and big lines at escalators and farecard gates. It's a ripple effect."
Yesterday's train breakdowns were caused by one old problem and a brand new one. The two trains that stalled in the tunnel did so because of "tripped battery circuit breakers." Metro is trying to find out why they tripped.
The Foggy Bottom train was stopped because of the old sticking door problem. The doors would not shut; the train would not go. All Metro doors have been readjusted on the $300,000 Rohr Industries cars so the doors are not supposed to stick. But they do when the trains are crowded. The trains are crowded during rush hour.
But the biggest problem, and the one that has caused the majority of rush-hour breakdowns in recent weeks, is the complex sensor system that controls the train's brakes. If the many sensors do not like what they sense, the brakes lock and the train stands still in what engineers call a "known safe condition." It is safe, but it is motionless.
Rohr, the brake subcontractor and Metro have been meeting regularly to get that fixed; they have not succeeded so far.
In the incident at McPherson Square yesterday evening, an unidentified man fell on the tracks. Station attendant Philip Lester turned off the power with an emergency switch, then helped pull the man off the tracks. The man was seated on a bench, then took a swing at Metro policeman John Triplett and hit him in the face, according to Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl. Triplett was taken to a hospital where his condition was unknown.
The man was subdued by bystanders and was taken to the second district police station, officials said.