Metro Yellow Line riders basking in post-Thanksgiving bliss could be in for a rude awakening when they arrive at their stations the Monday after the long holiday weekend: There will be no Yellow Line trains to board.
In a SafeTrack-like capital project, Metro will eliminate Yellow Line service for 14 consecutive days Nov. 26 through Dec. 9 to rebuild the tracks on the Yellow Line bridge — the structure linking Pentagon station in Virginia to L’Enfant Plaza in the District.
While there will be no Yellow Line service, all stations will remain open during the shutdown.
For riders at Yellow Line-only stations in Alexandria, that means trains will follow an abnormal service pattern: Blue Line trains will serve Huntington and Eisenhower Avenue stations, entering the District via Arlington Cemetery and through the capacity-strained Rosslyn tunnel. From Pentagon, the trip to L’Enfant Plaza will take 15 minutes longer than it would on the Yellow Line, according to Metro’s trip planner — and that’s before customers factor in any potential delays.
Metro is warning of crowding as Blue and Yellow Line stations are served by only half as many trains — with arrivals every 16 minutes.
“We’re doing the best we can to make sure the word is out,” said Alexandria City Council member Paul C. Smedberg, who also is an alternate member of the Metro board. “I mean it’s obviously going to be very disruptive. . . . It’ll be a different commuting pattern potentially for folks, if they’re not taking time off during holiday time, and there are going to be impacts.”
Metro said the work comes at a time of year — between major holidays — when ridership is typically lighter than usual. Still, the work is expected to impact about 50,000 daily trips — about 8 percent of Metro’s ridership — and mostly those who travel on the Blue and Yellow Lines in Virginia.
General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said a full-line shutdown, while disruptive, is unavoidable as the agency works to rehabilitate a bridge that opened when the Yellow Line launched in 1983.
“It’s a structure that just needs a lot of work,” Wiedefeld said. “There’s no other way around it when you’re dealing with a structure over the river.”
The transit agency said the project will involve a full track replacement on both tracks across the bridge span, including new steel rails, grout pads and fasteners. Riders from the Pentagon south were expected see their service cut in half and have longer trips into the District if they typically take the Yellow Line.
Metro “customers traveling between D.C. and Virginia via the Blue Line will want to build in additional travel time and expect the possibility of crowding, especially during rush hours,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
Metro says it has dispatched “street teams” to pass out fliers and inform riders at Blue and Yellow Line stations of the shutdown, and is getting out the message with email and text alert blasts, a mix of public announcements, social media postings and notifications on 7000-series rail car screens, for example.
Still, Wiedefeld said some riders will inevitably miss the warnings or fail to heed them. That possibility is magnified by the fact that tens of thousands could be away for the holiday weekend.
“Our experience is that people tend to pay attention to it right before it happens,” Wiedefeld said. “We also recognize that people, until the day of the event, they tend to not focus on it.”
It’s a scenario that played out with disastrous consequences at Reagan National Airport during Veterans Day weekend, where a partial Metro shutdown combined with rain and airline delays created a nightmarish traffic jam that left travelers stranded on the George Washington Memorial Parkway; social media reports indicated some were running from the gridlocked roads to the airport terminal to catch their flights.
Jack Potter, chief executive of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, apologized to travelers at the panel’s Wednesday board meeting, blaming the problem largely on the lack of Metro service in the area, which is also undergoing construction, but airport officials said the problem went far beyond what simple lane closures would cause.
Metro Board member Christian Dorsey said several factors were at play, ultimately combining to create gridlock.
“You have construction at the airport which is going on . . . you then have the weather which creates issues when flights landed, leading to large concentrations of people arriving, and therefore lots of [Uber and Lyfts] needing to access the airport at the same time we’re trying to run these [Metro] shuttles and then you have on the roads lots of vehicles in traffic,” said Dorsey, who represents Arlington. “When you have all that stuff hitting at the same time, you have the results that we saw.”
All the while, disgruntled passengers said the meltdown was a disastrous trial run for the arrival of retail giant Amazon.com, which announced this week its intention to place part of its second headquarters in the adjacent Crystal City neighborhood. Wiedefeld, however, said the collapse was a testament to Metro’s importance to the region’s transportation network.
(Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
“If you take Metrorail out of the equation, you see what happens to the road network,” he said. “The core issue to me was if you don’t have the rail there, people have to get to where they’re going — they’re using their cars. We have buses out there doing the shuttles and they’re trapped in the same traffic.”
For the upcoming shutdown, Metro will not run shuttles along the usual rail route — though a free shuttle bus will ferry passengers from Franconia-Springfield to Pentagon, as during SafeTrack. Meanwhile, the post-Thanksgiving service suspensions will not just impact commuters south of the District. While Metro’s Red, Green, Orange and Silver Lines are expected to run normally during weekdays, another project will shut down the Green and Yellow Lines in the District the weekend of Dec. 1-2.
Metro says Archives and Waterfront stations will be shuttered, while the Green and Yellow Line platforms at Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza will be closed as well. Metro says it is installing new station lighting in the area from Mount Vernon Square to Navy Yard.
At the agency’s board meeting Thursday, Wiedefeld said Metro is evaluating ways to make its weekend track work less disruptive for customers — in conjunction with the agency’s recently proposed $2 weekend flat fare. Ridership numbers have shown major capital projects have a corrosive impact that can stretch longer than the closures themselves. Metro is also working to offset its losses to ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, which have recorded substantial gains during weekends and periods when Metro has embarked on major track work.
For an agency that has already taken heat for one holiday weekend shutdown this month, Dorsey laid out the possible outcomes of the Yellow Line closure.
“The good scenario is that we do a better job of alerting people that this is going on,” he said. “You reduce the level of confusion going on — not just [for] the people who are potentially impacted by the ride but the people who may need to drive in the vicinity of the area. The upside is we have a disruption that people are able to, in real time, figure out alternatives.”
And what if that doesn’t happen?
“The worst scenario is looking a lot like we saw before, where we have general mass confusion that leads to understandable frustration.”