Some people took a first-day ride on Metro's new extension to Silver Spring yesterday because of the weather, some took it in spite of the weather and many took it just because it was there. Metro responded to the new challenge with mostly reliable trains, a few balky ones and frozen switches.
It was impossible not to notice the sharp contrast between the blowing, biting snow outside and the pleasure of watching it from inside the train.
The 5.5 mile extension of Metro's red line through Northeast Washington to Silver Spring is entirely above ground, as are the four wind swept and frigid stations that serve it.
Although the Metro had problems yesterday, it made some new friends. Rapid trips from Silver Spring to downtown Washington became a reality and, as the day's storm worsened, Metro was the only thing left running at even half speed.
The opening of the Silver Spring extension made it possible for Gerrie Kugler to do something she could not do before: take the Metro from Virginia to Maryland. She decided to try Metro, she said, because of "no snow tires and very bad weather."
Army Maj. Royce Keller, who lives in the Howard County new town of Columbia and works at the Pentagon, drove to Silver Spring yesterday, parked his car in the Montgomery County lot designated for that purpose, and caught the train.
"Ive been waiting for this for a long time," he said. Keller always drove to the Pentagon before.Unfortunately, he chose one of Metro's balky trains for his first ride ever and was delayed 20 minutes.
It will be another two weeks before Metro reroutes all of its buses and, in effect, forces thousands of commuters to transfer at the newly opened red line stations. Nonetheless, all four new stations had their share of customers yesterday.
By noon, according to Metro counters, a total of 6,631 people had boarded Metro at the four new stations. More than 5,000 of them had done so by 9.30 a.m., 3,505 of those coming through the gateway Silver Spring station, the first Metro stop to open in Maryland.
Most of the people Washington Post reporters talked to on the Metro had places to go and things to do, in contrast to the happy throng of thousands who spent last July 1 and July 4 joyriding on the then newly opened blue line between National Airport and Stadium-Armory.
There were some similarities, too. First-time Metro riders stood in front of the machines that sell farecards looking puzzled. Farecards are required both to enter and leave the Metro. They are sold by machines, read by machines and ultimately consumed by machines. They are supposed to be labor-saving devices.
But "volunteers" from Metro headquarters and from some Montgomery County offices were positioned at all the new stations to answer questions and give assistance. As usual, the farecard machines did not always work. At one time in the heart of the morning rush hour at Silver Sprin, three of the six vending machines said "Out of service" in red letters, one of them stood open while a repairman fiddled with its innards, and the other two vended cards to lines about 10 people deep.
Montgomery County's Ride-On bus service shuttled a steady procession of riders from the Silver Spring bus terminal at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street to the Metro. The terminal will be moved to the Metro station and the shuttle eliminated when Metrobus and Ride-On bus routes are changed Feb. 19.
Many cars were parked all day in the small Metro lot adjacent to the Silver Spring station. It is supposed to be used only for brief stopovers or for short-term midday parking. Metro decided yesterday to forgive and forget, but will be ticketing in earnest later this week.
The Montgomery County garage at nearby Dixon Lane and Bonifant Street has 400 spaces set aside for Metro parking, but only about 200 of them were used yesterday, officials said.
Bern Altman, 14 a student at Newport Junior High School, was the first passenger to enter the Silver Spring station yesterday. "I just wanted to be first," he explained. The train left at 5:58 a.m., operated by Harold Willie, who has 30 years of transit experience in the Washington area as a streetcar operator and bus driver. "It looks great when we're going under New Hampshire Avenue at 70 miles per hour and that traffic is all backed up there," Willis said.
Unfortunately, Willis's was one of several trains that broke down during the day and his passengers had to get off at Rhode Island Avenue and transfer to another train.
Minor mechanical difficulties primarily in the breaking system, were blamed for most of the morning delays.
By noontime, however, the blowing snow became a factor in the operation of the outdoor part of the Metro. The main turnround switch near Silver Spring was closed by blowing snow during the noon hour.
Other switch freezeups occurred into the evening, and the evening rush hour was marked by parked, slower moving trains. But the trains were moving and buses and cars were not.
People were standing six deep waiting for red line trains at the Metro Center station during the peak of the evening rush and some trains had to leave withough clearing the platforms. There simply was no more room.
But the passengers were jovial: while Delays in the evening Metro run were running 12 to 13 minutes over scheduled time, on Rhode Island Avenue, in Takoma Park (near the Takoma Station) and in Silver Spring itself, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic visible on almost all roads.
The passengers laughed and cheered at Silver Spring when they saw a traffic jam on Colesville Road and East-West Highway.
Tim Haskell, who lives near Silver Spring but who drove downtown to work yesterday, decided to leave his car in town and take the Metro home in the evening. "The great thing about this is that everybody seems to be in a good mood," Haskell said. He had not yet solved the problem of how he was going to get home from the Silver Spring station. "I have no idea how I'm going to get a bus," he said.
Metro General Manager Theodore C. Lutz said, "I would like to have had everything perfect, but all in all I'm not displeased. We seem to be carrying a reasonable number of people . . ."
When weather or mechanics did not intervene yesterday, Metro provided some record travel times. One trip from Silver Spring to Farragut North (Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW) took only 15 minutes.
Richard Baker, the Senate historian, said as he rode to work yesterday morning that Metro is changing his life. Although he has a free parking space at the Capitol, Baker said he intends to ride the bus and subway to work from Silver Spring. "I'd rather spend the half-hour to 40 minutes reading than go through 35 to 40 traffic lights," Baker said.
The Brookland station, adjacent to the Catholic University campus, had a steady flow of CU students and fautly.
Brian Weber, a senior in chemical engineering, said he lives in Silver Spring and can get to school in seven minutes compared to the hour or hour and one-half he previously spent on buses. "This is a great deal more direct," he said. "It's also a lot more fun. On top of that, I can sleep and hour later in the morning."