Riders on Metro’s Silver, Orange and Blue lines are incredulous that their rides are going to be sluggish and unpredictable for half a year, and for many, the first instinct is to search for alternatives.
They hate being the captive customers of a transit authority that can’t promise them a reliable ride. But for many, the alternatives aren’t that good. It’s why the region paid for this rail system in the first place.
This is why it’s now up to the transit staff, the Metro board and the region’s leaders to push for a faster fix for the power supply problem and end this intolerable situation. Meanwhile, they’ve all handed the newborn WMATA Riders’ Union an issue that should become the central focus of its existence.
I heard from dozens of frustrated riders during my online chat Monday. Here’s a sampler of their concerns, followed by a few points I’d like to make in response.
These rider comments, including ones not published during the live chat, hit key points about their recent experience and their search for options.
With the debacle at Stadium-Armory, why doesn’t WMATA just terminate Blue Line service, say at Eastern Market? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a pocket track anywhere along the stretch where SOB [Silver, Orange, Blue] trains share the tunnel, so that might make it a little tougher. You could also run the Blue Line from Franconia-Springfield to Arlington Cemetery and turn the trains around there. Or maybe they could just suspend Blue Line service completely and throw some extra Rush Plus Yellow trains on the schedule and run shuttle buses from Rosslyn or Pentagon to Arlington Cemetery. I just see the next six months being a big ol’ mess without some kind of major changes.
Dr. Gridlock, Like many people, I am caught up in the Stadium-Armory delays. I ride Blue. We are supposed to have 12-minute gaps between trains. This morning, there were gaps of 15-18 minutes so, of course, the trains are absolutely packed within a couple stops of where the line begins. My question is this: Why can’t Metro say what it’s going to do and stick to it? If they say 12 minutes and run 12 minutes, that’s one thing. But saying 12 minutes and failing to do even that … makes people lose confidence in Metro even more than the maintenance crises that keep happening due to years of terrible leadership.
A recent study showed that the Rosslyn tunnel carried more people across the Potomac than any other crossing in the D.C. area. From anecdotal experience, that’s always the most crowded portion of my daily commute, often leaving passengers behind because rail cars are too full. Now that the S/O/B lines are running at reduced capacity for the foreseeable future, are there any alternate routes that can help move those extra bodies across the river? This is being treated like a minor one-off inconvenience, but clearly has huge implications for how the region works.
Metro is awful
But not as bad as driving through congestion. Even riding on a bus through congestion. The problem is that we have alternate routes through congestion, and Metro has only one set of rails.
Are there any commuter buses from Tysons/Falls Church to D.C? Can we start something up like this?
I can get gas at $1.99 at Costco. Why on earth would I ride Metro now?
DG: The transit staff is still assessing its initial plan to fix the burnt-out power substation that caused the problem near Stadium-Armory and its plan to mitigate the delays and disruptions for riders on the three lines.
The next part of the mitigation plan begins Tuesday, when Silver and Orange Line trains will start skipping Stadium-Armory at rush hours, so the station will be served only by the Blue Line. This plan further widens the gap between trains and requires less power to get the trains through the Stadium-Armory area.
The bigger part of the mitigation program is underway. Metro widened the rush hour gap between trains on the Silver and Orange lines from six to eight minutes.
This strategy is a familiar one. The theory is that by putting more time and space between the trains, Metro can ease the bunching that occurs when the trains get too close and throw each other off schedule.
It’s the same program that Metro instituted a few years ago on the Red Line. And it’s the same program Metro continues to use on the weekends when track work means trains must take turns getting through single-tracking zones. It’s also the same strategy Metro proposed this year after acknowledging that it couldn’t get as many trains into the downtown tunnel as it had hoped when the Silver Line began operations in 2014.
The downside of this strategy is a lot easier to see than the upside. It means the remaining trains are very likely to be more crowded, even when some of them become eight cars long. Meanwhile, there’s no guarantee that the schedule will become more reliable. The system still is subject to train breakdowns, busted switches and power problems.
Many riders wondered about the possibility of adding more long-distance commuter buses. But the plain fact is that neither government nor private enterprise is prepared to add the number of express buses it would take to provide an alternative for the tens of thousands of rail riders caught up in this slowdown.
The regional bus network largely exists as a feeder system for Metrorail, rather than as an alternative for getting commuters from distant suburbs into the region’s core. There are a few routes that offer a parallel service, like Metrobus 38B. That line operates between Ballston and Farragut Square, and is popularly known as “the Orange Line with a view.” But that’s a rarity, and besides, surface routes just get caught in the same heavy traffic that drivers complain about.
The region has dithered for years about creating bus lanes that would ease this problem.
Meanwhile, long-distance commuters who find the low price of gas enticing need to consider the full cost of driving, both on their finances and on their well-being. Of all the letters and comments I get from drivers, I don’t recall any that praised the ease of traveling inside the Capital Beltway to work.
If people want to look somewhere for solutions, consider the ride-sharing options that are available through the Commuter Connections services.
Some commuters will say that Metro’s foibles are tilting the well-being balance in favor of driving. And the entire region needs to be concerned about that. For example, Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board, which hopes to get together with Maryland for talks about improving cross-Potomac travel, should pay more attention to solving this new difficulty of moving people through the Rosslyn tunnel.
This fire at one power substation has burgeoned into a major problem for the region’s transportation network, and it needs a regional effort to find a solution.