After standing in the cold for 30 minutes at Metro’s West Falls Church stop, where the Orange Line was suspended early Tuesday morning, a crowd of commuters finally gets warm aboard a shuttle bus to the Ballston station. (Paul Duggan/The Washington Post)
Before dawn Tuesday morning at the West Falls Church stop on Metro’s Orange Line a crowd of riders waited — and waited — for a shuttle bus to take them around a trouble spot on the rail line’s western end.
Earlier, moments after the rail system was supposed to open with full service on five of its six rail lines, Metro announced a change: no rail service to four stations on the Orange Line, including Vienna, Dunn Loring, and East and West Falls Church.
That left many riders, especially those who use the Silver Line — also closed because of the snow — in a lurch. Metro said it had shuttle buses to get riders to the Ballston stop, where they could then get on the rail line. But that was little comfort to the growing number of riders waiting in the cold.
To be sure, ridership on Metro is much lower with area schools and the federal government shut down again Tuesday. Normally, about 42,000 riders use those western stops on the Orange Line and the Silver Line on a weekday morning.
Tell that to those waiting in the cold.
Buses came into the station, but many were going to other stops west of there, not heading east, including to Ballston or downtown Washington, where many riders needed to go.
By 7 a.m., patience had worn thin and the crowd had grown to about two dozen.
Bobby Smoot, a service manager for Metro, stood at the stop trying to keep riders up to date using a bullhorn.
He repeated, the “rail station is closed at this time.”
“We’re running shuttle buses.”
As waiting — and cold — riders asked, Where’s the bus to Ballston?
Smoot kept apologizing.
Under his breath, he said: “Oh yeah. Oh yeah. If the government was open there would be ten times as many people here and I would really be in trouble.”
He then said into his bullhorn to the growing and slightly surly crowd, “I apologize, I apologize. … the shuttle buses are coming.”
At one point, two buses in a row came. Smoot got on one and found out that it was headed to Vienna. He told the crowd. They moaned. He apologized.
Kelly Adrian, 55, of Sterling who works on Connecticut Avenue in the District as a trust officer at a bank, normally rides the Silver Line from Wiehle-Reston East stop. She came to West Falls Church Tuesday morning expecting to get an Orange Line train.
“They said they were going to run,” she said, shivering in the cold. “And then I heard on the way here they were not going to run.”
She shook her head.
“I’m a little upset that the Silver Line always seems to be at the bottom of the pecking order. But if they were running here it wouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience. I’m disappointed. But I mean I guess they’re doing the best they can in the situation.”
Not far from her stood another cold rider – Adil Mirza, 30. He usually walks to the West Falls Church stop, where he catches a train to his job as a financial planner near L’Enfant Plaza. He went to bed Monday night thinking there would be Orange Line service. And like most riders at the stop, he wasn’t surprised when he found out they wouldn’t have service.
When he heard there was no service for those four stations Tuesday morning, he said “Again! The usual! Another disappointment!”
He then said: “I’ve traveled around the world. I just came back from Singapore two days ago, and I looked at their transit system.”
“I was in London last month, and I looked at their transit system,” he said. “I understand there’s a problem with funding the Metro system. But there has to be some sort of mechanism for improvement. And I think that’s where the basic problem is.”
Mirza added: “I don’t see fundamental improvements. I’ve been riding from this station to my office for four years now, and it gets progressively worse. The problem is, the bar is set so low, any improvement that does occur they’ll say: ‘See! It’s working now!’ But it’s not working.”
Meanwhile, Smoot continued using his bullhorn to apologize to riders.
Cold and waiting, Metro rider David Greenwood, 53, said he had driven to the station from Falls Church. He’s a technology executive who works in downtown Washington. He rolled his eyes when asked if he went to bed Monday night thinking the Orange Line would be up and running.
“Yeah. They kind of said that, didn’t they?” he said. “This is one of the biggest cities in the country, one of the most preeminent cities. You’d expect something better than this.”
He stood waiting for a bus. After 20 minutes, he turned and started to walk away.
“I’m giving up,” he said. “I might as well work from home.” Then he disappeared down a set of stairs to a parking lot.
Grace Lin, another waiting Metro rider who works as a lawyer in the District and lives in McLean, said she went to bed hearing that Metro was going to be running, but she always has her doubts.
“At 6 a.m. this morning, I checked the website just to see, because their accuracy is not always good,” she said. She saw there were no trains.
“Metro is so fragile,” Lin said. “Immediately I’m thinking, ‘Can I just stay home?’ But not really.”
“The price is too expensive,” she said of Metro fares, and “we have issues when it is too hot, we have issues when it is too cold. I understand there is a lot of maintenance and the system is old. But, please, work harder!”