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A 15-minute commute turns into a 90-minute nightmare on the Red Line

Red Line riders at Farragut North faced one more bad commute Monday evening. (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)

It was chaotic at Farragut North on Monday evening.

Two trains offloaded at the station within minutes of each other during the heart of the rush hour. Trains single-tracked. There were delays in both directions. A platform was so crowded that some riders were pushed back to the mezzanine. The fare gates closed for at least 20 minutes to keep more  passengers from flooding the station.

My 15-minute train ride turned into a 90-minute nightmare.

The problem, as some riders described it Monday night, is not that this happened Monday. It is that these delay-plagued commutes are becoming too common on the Red Line.  This week was Monday.  Last week was Wednesday.

“Another huge metro delay on the #redline. Cmon, #wmata,” rider Karen Castillo tweeted.

“Apologies to the people around me for the hot steam coming out my ears,” tweeted another frustrated rider. “Reasons I hate the metro: 200 people (myself included) have been waiting at Farragut north metro station for 23 minutes for a stupid train!!”

I am sure it was more than 200 people and I am sure she waited longer.  The Red Line problems in the 5 p.m. hour included four trains offloading in a span of 16 minutes. Two of those were at Farragut North, one of the busiest stations in the system

I got to the station around 5:30 p.m., and was welcomed by a friend who was bailing, and urged me not to go inside.  By that time, scores of people were already making an exit and looking for an alternative transportation option. That entrance and exit cost you, if you didn’t know.  Yes, $2.15.  My friend, like others, was calling a friend hoping to get a ride to Montgomery County.

Going down the stairs from the L street entrance, I could spot just a few empty spaces in between the multitudes of people already on the platform. While inside, it was virtually impossible to hear any announcements so there was no audible explanation of what was going on and what the passengers could expect.

An empty train arrived at Farragut Station around 5:45 p.m. It was diverted to Shady Grove on the Glenmont-bound tracks, but confused riders couldn’t tell which direction the train was going.  The people on the far right of the platform didn’t have a chance to get on because the train stopped toward the middle. Metro staff, mixed in the crowd, alerted riders of the Shady Grove-bound train. It left crowded.  And the platform remained crowded.

Up in the mezzanine, station  managers took questions from riders; they didn’t know how long it would be before normal service resumed. No more people were allowed in on the K Street entrance for about 20 minutes in an effort to control the multitudes already inside. I am not sure if the L street entrance closed, but this was the first time I had seen Metro do this.

Metro police and staff tried to keep the crowds calm, regularly thanking riders for their patience.  It’s unclear how much the message got across; not only was the sound system bad, but many people were murmuring about the Red Line and others were on their phones trying to explain their lateness to someone on the other end.

Some riders were relieved when a train full of passengers arrived at the platform around 6:25 p.m. To their disappointment it was the train that had been stuck in the tunnel outside Farragut North, finally making it to the platform to offload hundreds of passengers before being taken out of service.

If you were at Farragut  North on Monday evening, it may be a consolation to know that the mess wasn’t exclusive to your station. There was a train at Union Station with door problems at 5:20 p.m..  There was one that booted off passengers at Dupont Circle, because it needed service. And another one at Metro Center.

A colleague got on a train more than 45 minutes after he arrived. I got on one a few minutes later. It was crowded. It became more crowded at Dupont, where fellow riders also had had a long wait for their ride.

“This is ridiculous. I just laugh about it,” a man in a suit told me as we waited for the train.

“It’s not new,” a woman said as we rode down the escalator to the platform.  “I was caught up in this last week.”

Follow me on Twitter to see how the commute evolved Monday night.

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