It was 5:20 p.m. when Brigid Howe left work on a recent Wednesday at the National Council of Jewish Women, a couple of blocks from Farragut North.
It was early enough that she wasn’t exactly running, as she sometimes does. But she was hurrying, hoping she wouldn’t have to wait long for the Red Line train to Wheaton. Her 7-year-old son was waiting to be picked up at his school’s after-school center at 6:30. For every minute she was late, she’d have to pay a dollar.
“It’s 30 minutes on the Metro,” she said as she hurried down L Street Northwest. “But I have to walk to Farragut, and the Wheaton escalator is 237 feet long or something like that. So that takes a long time. And I have to walk to get my car and drive to child care.”
“It’s not just the money,” said Howe, 45. She feels bad about keeping the child care workers late — and she remembers being the last one being picked up from child care herself. “It’s no fun for a kid,” she said.
Adding to her stress is one of those maddening games of chance Metro makes you play. Half of the Red Line trains headed toward Glenmont go only to Silver Spring before turning around. That means only every other Red Line train will take you past Silver Spring to Forest Glen, Wheaton and the end of the line at Glenmont.
That’s bad news for Geoff Gerhardt, a policy director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who catches the Red Line from downtown D.C. home to Forest Glen.
On those days when the Metro gods aren’t smiling, he’ll get to Metro Center and find that the next train will only go to Silver Spring. If the Red Line is running on schedule, he’ll wait four minutes for the train and then watch it go. Then he’ll wait another four minutes for the Glenmont train. But there are times when so many others are also headed toward the end of the line that he won’t be able to squeeze on.
So after watching that train go, he’ll wait for the Silver Spring train. And watch that leave.
“Sometimes a good 20 minutes will have gone by” before he can get on a Glenmont train, he said.
It can be worse on the weekends, said Partap Verma, a Department of Homeland Security attorney who lives in Forest Glen. People face longer waits because of the weekend delays for trackwork, and “there’s a mad dash” for the Glenmont train, he said.
The other end of the Red Line used to have the same problem. Half the trains would turn around at Grosvenor-Strathmore instead of going all the way to the end of the line at Shady Grove.
Metro began running all the trains to that end of the line in December, leaving those on the less-wealthy, more racially diverse Glenmont end wondering, what about them?
“We’re paying a little more than other commuters because we’re going a little farther. But we receive literally half the service. It just doesn’t seem fair to me,” Howe said.
But the Silver Spring turnback appears to be on its way out. Metro’s board last Thursday preliminarily approved a $3.5 billion 2020 budget that included extending the Yellow Line to Greenbelt and running all Red Line trains between Shady Grove and Glenmont. The budget was approved by the board’s finance committee unanimously and will be up for a final vote of the full board on March 28.
If it does, it will take some of the pressure off Howe and others like her.
“I had some good Metro luck this morning. So knock on wood, we’ll see if it’s going to last,” Howe said as she approached Farragut North — hoping to see the Glenmont train coming first.
As it turned out, the gods were smiling on her that day. As she walked into the station, she checked the board for the next Glenmont train. “Good," she said. "Two minutes.”
The escalator at Wheaton rises steeply for 230 feet, or roughly the equivalent of 23 stories. She got to it that day early enough to be able to stand for the two-minute, 45-second ride. She’d end up getting to child care with five minutes to spare.
One time, though, Howe said, she couldn’t get off a call and left work a few minutes late. She had to wait because the Silver Spring train came first.
It was almost 6:30 p.m. when she got off the train at Wheaton. So she trudged up the longest continuous escalator in the northern hemisphere."
“Painful,” she said when asked how that went.
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