“Metro: On Saturday. No delay on any line. 23 minutes waiting for a Blue Line going to Rosslyn from Pentagon City. TWENTY-THREE MINUTES! Why does Metro hate its customers?”
The long wait probably matches the experience of many Metrorail riders, and I’m sure it reflects the frustration many weekend riders feel about the gaps between trains on just about any line during the weekends.
One unusual thing about this past weekend was that Metro had suspended its scheduled maintenance after the Friday afternoon derailment on the Green Line and the discovery of the heat kink in the rails that almost certainly led to the derailment.
There was really no upside to that for weekend riders, because Metro ordered all trains to slow their aboveground speeds to 35 mph because the temperatures remained extremely high and it was possible that other heat kinks could have developed in the rails.
For weekend rail riders, it’s always something. I’ll wrap up this posting by reviewing what Metro has in store for this coming weekend. But let’s go over the Blue Line rider’s complaint.
On Saturdays, Blue Line trains are scheduled to operate every 15 minutes in the early morning and evening, every 12 minutes at midday and every 20 minutes late at night.
Many riders will say that doesn’t match their experience. In fact, I anticipate that some commenters will say: “23 minutes between trains? Sounds pretty good.”
Waits for weekend trains can be excruciating, especially when riders must transfer between lines. Metro isn’t so good at matching up the arrival times of trains so riders can make smooth transitions at the transfer points.
Plus, all the problems that trains and tracks have on weekdays can occur on weekends.
This is Metro’s scorecard on the Blue Line for this past Saturday:
7:13 a.m. A Largo Town Center-bound Blue Line train at Franconia-Springfield was delayed six minutes because of a signal problem.
7:27 a.m. A Largo Town Center-bound Blue Line train at Franconia-Springfield was delayed six minutes because of a signal problem.
1:04 p.m. A Largo Town Center-bound Blue Line train at Franconia-Springfield was delayed 18 minutes because of a brake problem.
5:41 p.m. A Franconia-Springfield-bound Blue Line train at Reagan National Airport was delayed eight minutes because of police activity.
(Most of Metro’s reports about schedule disruptions on Saturday were on the Red Line.)
The aggressive maintenance program is designed to reduce the frequency of problems with signals and brakes. But to riders, a disruption is a disruption, whether it’s scheduled or unscheduled.
If they don’t know when they’re going to get where they’re going, it means the transit system is unreliable.
Metro has tried to deal with this in several ways. There’s the maintenance program itself, which over a period of years — we don’t know how many — should increase reliability of schedules.
There’s an intensified program of electronic alerts, which are helpful, but somewhat limited in that riders may not see them in time or they may not contain enough information for riders to make informed choices.
Then there’s the style of weekend maintenance. Metro has two ways of getting train riders through work zones. Either the trains will share a track around a work zone, or Metro will split the line in two, shut down stations in the work area, and use shuttle buses to get riders between the two open sections of train line.
Riders have mixed reviews for both, since they’re all disruptions. Single-tracking can really throw off schedules, but at least it’s a single-seat ride. Splitting the lines allows Metro to keep the open sections closer to a real schedule, and the weekend shuttles work pretty well, but it still means train riders have to get up and leave the station, board a bus, then go back into a station.
You’ll see a combination of those techniques in the maintenance scheduled for this coming weekend. The disruptions will affect all lines from 10 p.m. Friday though the rail system’s midnight closing Sunday.
Orange Line: Trains will share a track between East Falls Church and West Falls Church. Expect minor delays, Metro says.
Blue Line: Free shuttle buses will replace trains between Braddock Road and Pentagon City. The stations at Reagan National Airport and Crystal City will be closed.
Trains will operate between Franconia-Springfield and Braddock Road and between Pentagon City and Largo Town Center at their regular weekend times. Riders using the buses through the work zone should add about half an hour to normal travel times, Metro says.
Yellow Line: As with the Blue Line, buses replace trains between Braddock Road and Pentagon City. Yellow Line trains will operate between Huntington and Braddock Road and between Pentagon City and Mount Vernon Square at regular weekend intervals, Metro says.
Red Line: Trains will share a track between Takoma and Forest Glen. They will leave the ends of the line about every 20 minutes. Add 15 minutes to get through the work zone.
Between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, more trains will operate between Shady Grove and NoMa-Gallaudet, so trains in that zone should arrive at platforms about every 10 minutes.
Green Line: Trains will share a track between Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza. They are scheduled to operate every 16 minutes, but add about 10 minutes to get through the work zone.