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By No. 16, SafeTrack surges may be familiar, but Metro riders aren’t any happier

Commuters at the Twinbrook Metro station in Rockville board a shuttle bus to Rockville and Shady Grove stations on Monday. (Rachel Siegel /The Washington Post)

By 6:48 a.m. Monday, Robbie Morton had already had enough of her morning commute. Normally, her ride from Rockville Metro station to Farragut North in downtown Washington takes about 30 minutes, but the first weekday commute of the final SafeTrack surge was giving Morton and her fellow riders a particularly bad case of the Monday blues.

With both the Rockville and Shady Grove stations closed by the surge, Morton had to be dropped off at a 7-Eleven on Rockville Pike, followed by a 10-minute walk to the Twinbrook Station, where the western end Red Line begins service for the duration of the surge.

“I’m not a happy camper,” Morton, 75, said from the crowded platform before jumping on an arriving train.

Metro’s last SafeTrack surge will shutter part of the Red Line for 9 days

The 16th and final SafeTrack surge began Saturday and concludes Sunday. The project involves work on a five-mile stretch of track between Shady Grove and Twinbook; Shady Grove and Rockville stations are closed. While this is the last surge of the year-long SafeTrack program, much work remains. Earlier this month, Metro announced that over the next year, parts of the Green, Red and Yellow lines will close for projects similar to the SafeTrack surges. The new projects, scheduled to start in August, are designed to target small sections of track and last for 10 "commuting days" each.

Metro's SafeTrack maintenance program launched on June, 4 2016, and ended on June 25, 2017. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

But on Monday, riders who might have otherwise celebrated the end of SafeTrack looked to the future work with resentment.

Even before a reporter could ask about how additional repairs to the Red Line would affect her commute, Lori Nugent, 55, interrupted, “It sucks.”

“They’re going fix this, and what’s going to be next?” she said.

Nugent, who typically begins her ride at Rockville to get to Pentagon City, said it was unthinkable to drive to work rather than take Metro, given heavy traffic and the need to pick kids up after school or camp. “This is still reliable, but it’s still a nightmare,” she said.

By 7 a.m., Twinbrook’s main parking lot was full, leaving riders to compete for spaces in an adjacent garage or in lots across the street. Commuters also had the option of riding shuttle buses that Metro is running to replace service between Twinbrook, Rockville and Shady Grove.

Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said this surge “got off to a relatively smooth start” Monday morning and that it appeared many riders opted to start their commutes at Twinbrook or Grosvenor rather than rely on the shuttles. Red Line ridership was down 9 percent compared with last year, she said, with ridership beyond the surge area “relatively unchanged.” Ly added that more than 50 buses shuttled riders between Twinbrook and the closed stations.

Tonya Lee caught one of those shuttles to get to her job at Washington Adventist Hospital. Lee, 56, normally catches a 7:30 or 7:35 a.m. Montgomery County Ride On bus that leaves from Shady Grove. As her shuttle crawled along the stretch of road between Twinbrook and Shady Grove, Lee’s eyes rarely left the digital clock at the front of the bus.

“I’m looking at the time, but I don’t know how far we are,” she said at 7:29 a.m. “I don’t know if we can get around this corner in four minutes.”

There was little time to wait after Lee’s shuttle pulled into the Shady Grove lot at 7:32.

On a shuttle leaving from Shady Grove toward Twinbrook, John Tomlin was among the few unbothered by the surge. Tomlin, 71, usually rides Metro from Shady Grove to Judiciary Square to get to his job at the Labor Department. He considered driving to the Twinbrook station rather than taking the shuttle but said he didn’t mind “letting someone else drive me there.”

“I don’t let things disrupt my routine of life,” he said. “If it adds some time, it adds some time.”

Tomlin said that he has been riding Metro since it opened in 1976 and that he “wouldn’t work downtown if not for Metro.”

Still, he has not been immune to more recent problems on the rails. Tomlin said that shortly after Metro introduced its new 7000-series rail cars in April 2015, he was riding one of the cars when the doors failed to open. Eventually the doors in another car opened and passengers were able to exit from that one. And Tomlin said it was no coincidence that he planned a vacation to see his father in Florida during Surge No. 7 in August.

Even among commuters who budgeted extra time to get to work Monday, some acknowledged that while they know the work is important, the improvements aren’t always apparent to inconvenienced riders.

Christopher Song said the shuttle from Rockville to Twinbrook “took twice as long” as Metro would have.

“Hopefully it’s safer,” Song, 23, of Rockville, said. “That’s not the kind of thing you can normally tell.”