One hundred Metro buses set out on their appointed rounds yesterday morning. All of them got stuck in the snow. At 7:40 Metro called it quits for the day.
That was the pattern for most public transportation in the Washington area yesterday. All three major airports were closed and Greyhound and Trailways reported that their buses were brought to a standstill by the near-record snowfall.
Only Amtrak was able to function, but it did so with its regular trains. Amtrak's Metroliners, famous for not operating in snowstorms, were taken out of service before they had a chance to prove again that they couldn't do it.
Amtrak will not be able to restore its Metroliner service until Wednesday at the earliest, a spokesman said last night. Most of the rest of the Amtrak trains ran yesterday and are expected to do so today. Delays of about one hour can be expected, the spokesman said.
Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl said late yesterday that there will be "as much bus service as possible" today but that the subway will not operate. Bus routes that normally terminate at outlying Metro stations such as Pentagon, Rosslyn and New Carrollton will be extended into downtown Washington.
Many Metro employes, including bus drivers and subway personnel, were unable to get to work yesterday and driver availability will be one of the keys to the amount of Metro bus service today.
The Metro subway's yards and outdoor stations were under snow that covered the power-carrying third rail. Ice formed between the rail and pickup shoes on the subway cars and the trains stopped. "We're just going to have to dig it out by hand, and that takes people," said Anthony Stefanac, general superintendent of rail for Metro.
Metro offered last night to pay $5 per hour to as many as 700 able bodied people over 18 who would help shovel out the subway today. Those interested were encouraged to report to six locations at 6:30 a.m. today. The locations are the Metro headquarters building, 600 5th St., NW; the Rosslyn, Eastern Market and Minnesota Ave. Metro stations; the intersection of Portland and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenues, SE, and the Metro general maintenance shop at 8021 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring.
The intensity of the storm in the early-morning hours yesterday knocked out most transportation. At Dulles Airport, operations manager Don Meck said, "Our plows were keeping up with it until about 6 a.m. Then it started snowing so hard that the drivers couldn't see each other and the plows were running into each other. It was like a game of dodge-'em at Glen Echo," he said, referring to the old amusement park.
Dulles was the first of the area's major airports to open when it did so at 4 p.m. National airport followed at 7:30 last night. Baltimore-Washington International is planning to resume operations at noon today.
At one time yesterday, airports were closed from Richmond through New York City, and many airlines, including United, Eastern and Allegheny, cancelled their schedules to Washington.
Officials at Dulles, National and Baltimore-Washington International all reported that their terminals were almost empty, presumable because people couldn't get to them. The closest open major airports were Norfolk to the south, Boston to the north and Pittsburgh to the west.
Robin Clark, a retired chief of border patrol with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, was driven from his home in Lanham to National Airport by a friend with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. He had hoped to catch a 3 p.m. flight to Dallas, where his 86-year-old mother is seriously ill.
Told that the airport was closed, Clark gazed out a window at the snowy runway and wondered what to do, since he had no way to get home.
Brian Duff, a spokesman for Amtrak, said the passenger railroad had expected heavy holiday crowds yesterday, but they did not show up. "We have been running one to two hours behind schedule on our regular service," he said, "and traffic is light." In addition to the Metroliners, Amtrak canceled a commuter train from Harpers Ferry, W. Va., and used those locomotives to assist in the Northeast corridor.
Some inter-city buses were stranded on the highways yesterday before being freed by snow plows. Trailways stopped operations for a while after it took one bus nine hours to make a run from Charlottesville, four times the two hours and 15 minutes it normally takes.
By late afternoon, Trailways had resume limited southbound service from Washington, helped in part by a farmer.
"This fellow drove his tractor over here," the Trailways dispatcher said. "He didn't have a blade, but he mashed the snow down some and that helped. then he pulled two buses out of drifts and that helped some more."