The newly revised version of Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance program will affect commuting plans for tens of thousands of riders during June.
These are just the first two of 15 special programs that will continue into 2017, but a look at them shows the entire region what it’s in for as various segments of lines experience continual single-tracking around work zones or the complete shutdown of some stations.
What’s still unclear is how the region’s transportation agencies will be able to respond. They are talking with Metro but needed to see this final version of the program to make their plans. Metrobus also will be involved. Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has said that “transit service” will be preserved in all 15 cases but that sometimes will mean either supplemented bus service on regular routes or free Metrobus shuttles to get train riders between open segments of lines.
The first graphic from Metro shows the plan for 13 days of continuous single-tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston, beginning June 4.
Note that the impact on Metro riders is not confined to the single-tracking zone. Service all along the Orange and Silver lines is affected. Our unfortunate recent history suggests that if the Orange and Silver lines’ schedules are affected, the Blue Line schedule also will be affected. And if the Blue Line turns out to be affected, it could have an impact on the Yellow Line as well.
Widening the scheduled gap between trains could help the flow into the Rosslyn tunnel. But as riders who have experienced the weekend rebuilding program know, the trains still can be thrown off schedule, even when fewer trains are operating.
No matter how the schedules fit together, there’s going to be a great deal of crowding on trains and platforms at rush hours. At a minimum, riders should be looking to adjust their travel times to avoid rail travel at peak hours if at all possible. If that’s not possible, plan on adding extra travel time in case the trains are way off schedule or you have to let one or two go by before you can squeeze aboard.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission is coordinating the response, or potential response, of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, VRE and the local bus services, including ART, CUE, DASH, Fairfax Connector, Loudoun County Transit and OmniRide. But they all needed to see this revised plan before they could finalize their own arrangements.
The responses they come up with will not make it all better. In the short amount of planning time available, a major focus will be on providing some supplemental bus service. Another focus will be on trying to get as many commuters as possible familiar with all their travel options, including carpooling, bike sharing, alternative work schedules and telecommuting. A recent study by the regional Transportation Planning Board found that half the region’s commuters, and 70 percent of Metrorail commuters, either do telework occasionally or know that they could if they chose to. (It’s a great time to choose to.)
One Wednesday night, before the revised plan came out, I was talking with Tom Biesiadny, director of Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation. Like the rest of us, he wanted to see details of the revised plan, but he said he expected the transportation staff would make a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors next week. Extra service provided by the Fairfax Connector buses was a big help to many commuters during the one-day Metrorail shutdown in March, and I hope that can be repeated for these more extended restrictions on rail service.
One obvious concern among commuters looking at that Metro graphic is that drivers will overwhelm the Dulles Toll Road and Interstate 66 during the June disruptions.
Biesiadny made the point that planners want to keep commuters focused on transit, for both the short term and the long term: “People are doing what we want them to do – that’s taking transit. We want to retain them.”
Here’s the Metro graphic showing Surge 2, which will completely shut the Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue stations for 16 days starting June 18.
This most certainly affects the Silver, Orange and Blue lines, and not only on their eastern sides. It’s possible it also could affect travel on the Yellow Line in Virginia by throwing off the schedule and by adding to the crowding on the D.C.-bound trains. The Blue Line will operate only between between Franconia-Springfield and Arlington Cemetery. Riders who normally use the Blue Line to reach Rosslyn, the west side of the District, and points west in Arlington and Fairfax will need to take Yellow Line trains to L’Enfant Plaza and switch to the Orange or Silver lines, which will be on a reduced schedule.
Metro is planning a free shuttle bus service to link the open portions of the lines. These buses will run between Eastern Market and Minnesota Avenue or Benning Road, with stops at Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue stations, which will be closed to rail riders.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) anticipated what I’m sure many of the riders will say about this upcoming experience. In a statement, Connolly said: “Metro’s finalized SafeTrack Plan will present significant and sustained challenges to riders, especially my constituents along the Orange and Silver lines. While this bold and aggressive proposal is undoubtedly necessary to reverse decades-long neglect of basic maintenance and safety, our riders’ patience ultimately must be rewarded with a world-class, safe, and reliable transit system.”
How patient are you going to be with this?