Parts of Metro’s rail line were shut down completely Monday as the transit agency begins the first full work day of its major repair program.
Here are the highlights:
- This week is the second phase in Metro’s year-long program, called SafeTrack.
- Until July 3, the Silver, Orange and Blue lines will be affected. The stops from Eastern Market to Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road are closed.
- Area roads, buses and rail lines are expected to be extremely crowded.
This phase of Metro’s SafeTrack program is expected to be the major test of the rail system’s big repair project. It involves the shutdown of a heavily traveled stretch of three rail lines for 16 days. Metro has warned that the first part of its SafeTrack program was mild by comparison. This second part is hitting D.C. and Prince George’s County.
Updated at 10:28 a.m.
Crowds at Eastern Market thinned by 9:45 a.m. Trains were running every few minutes and only became crowded when multiple shuttles dropped people off at the station at similar times.
One commuter from Seat Pleasant, Md., said taking the shuttle from Benning Station to Eastern Market didn’t faze her.
“It wasn’t bad at all,” said Chita, a federal employee who declined to give her name. “As long as the work is getting done, the shuttle will work fine for me for 16 days.”
Above all, she said, she’s grateful Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is doing the repairs that were necessary years ago.
“I would give him a kiss on the cheek if I saw him,” she said.
Wiedefeld was out at some of the affected stations in Monday morning’s commute.
Updated at 9:12 a.m.
As the morning ticked on, the crowds grew bigger and the shuttle buses less frequent. A line of about 25 commuters stood waiting for a bus.
At the King Street-Old Town station, Lutgarda O’Campo wasn’t too pleased.
The second surge of Metro’s safety repair program took her by surprise.
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” said O’Campo, 65, who lives in Dumfries, Va., and works in accounting in Ballston. She said she usually takes the Blue Line to the Rosslyn stop and switches to the Orange or Silver lines and goes to Ballston. But had to change her route with Metro’s SafeTrack program.
Updated at 8:48 a.m.
While Metro and local officials have urged commuters to telecommute, it’s unclear how many of the affected riders are able to work from home during this latest round of Metro service disruptions.
Federal agencies have been told to be more flexible in allowing their employees to telework and to work alternate schedules, but the U.S. Office of Personnel Management said individual agencies would make decisions based on impacts from each of the Metro projects.
Brad Heard, a federal worker and transit advocate who commutes from Capitol Heights in Prince George’s, said many county residents in government jobs will be juggling this week to get to downtown with no transportation options outside of the Metro system.
“The federal government is not generally letting people just stay home for two weeks,” said Heard. “All of these officials are like ‘find alternative transportation,’ but you have to have alternatives to make that feasible, and the alternative can’t be ‘I am going to stay home for two weeks’ because no employer is going to allow for that.”
“You just have to picture the number of people who still have to go to work,” Heard said. “Those people aren’t going to disappear.”
On Monday, Heard, who takes the Blue or Silver Line from Addison Road station to Farragut West, planned to drive to the Suitland Metro station instead and take the Green Line to downtown.
“I am going to try to drive to Suitland, but I assume I am not going to be the only one with that idea,” he said. “The parking lots will fill out. That’s going to be a nightmare.”
Any alternative to Metro is likely to be difficult for commuters coming from eastern portion of the system.
“I can try one of the buses from Capitol Heights into downtown, but that is also going to be a bad commute. The traffic will be terrible,” Heard said. Biking isn’t feasible in Prince George’s, with no bike lanes or facilities like Capital Bikeshare available to residents, he said.
Updated at 8:20 a.m.
On the western side of the Orange and Silver lines, at least, it seemed that many people appeared to have heeded Metro’s warning to avoid the rail system and find other means of getting to work.
At the height of rush hour, in the 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. hour, Orange and Silver trains headed to downtown Washington from Virginia were carrying fewer passengers than normal. Even with trains operating on a reduced schedule and D.C.-bound Blue Line service from Virginia shut down, plenty of seats were available between the Vienna and L’Enfant Plaza stations.
Only at L’Enfant did riders on this part of the system encounter a crowded station, as many more commuters the usual from Virginia arrived in Yellow Line trains, their alternative to the Blue Line.
But the crowding was not severe. And for those who then headed west on the Orange and Silver lines to D.C. destinations, the crowding quickly eased. On some Silver Line trains there was standing-room only at the end of some trains.
Riders got off trains at the Smithsonian, Federal Triangle and Metro Center stations, but few people boarded, as the platforms at those stations were quiet and in some places almost empty.
Updated at 8:01 a.m.
Around 7:30 a.m., Metro’s chief, Paul Wiedefeld, arrived at the Minnesota Avenue stop. He had started his morning at 5 a.m. at the Eastern Market station.
“This is going very smoothy,” he said as he watched the shuttle bus operation and helped direct a few confused passengers. He did note, however, there were some early morning issues.
— lori aratani (@loriara) June 20, 2016
For example, at the Eastern Market stop, he said, there was too much traffic to have passengers dropped at Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE so Metro officials moved the drop-off point slightly, but that added about a minute to the bus ride, he said.
— lori aratani (@loriara) June 20, 2016
Updated at 7:24 a.m.
At several of the affected Metro stops, lines were growing as commuters waited for shuttle buses that are scheduled to take them around closed stations. But they were often waiting and waiting. Rail cars can carry 800 people, compared with a bus that can carry 50 people and has to deal with traffic, Metro officials said.
Some customers at the Benning Road stop, said they worried they would be charged for exiting the station after they found out about the rail shutdown. Metro workers assured them they would not be charged.
Original post at 6:15 a.m.
Workers are advised to work from home or carpool as there are not enough buses to carry all the rail riders who will be delayed.
So far early Monday morning, major roads in the area, including the Capital Beltway and Interstate 66 and the Baltimore Washington Parkway, were running relatively smoothly with no reports of big crashes or delays. But traffic was starting to pick up as the commute got underway.
Early Monday morning, Metro’s general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, said on NBC that he had been out at some of the affected stations and found that commuters seemed to be following the advice — find another way. Shuttle buses were working in the early morning commute, he said.
But he warned, it could get bad. He noted that trains can carry roughly 800 passengers compared with a bus that can only carry 50 people and must battle traffic.
“This is the worst of it so far,” he said of the second surge in the SafeTrack repair program. “It will be tough.”
He advised riders to use other modes of transportation, carpool, telework or spread out their commute to avoid headaches on Metro rail lines.
But some snapshots from commuters showed the commute was already off to a rough start.
— Bishop Cosplay (@BishopCosplay) June 20, 2016
Some commuters said early Monday morning things weren’t too bad but they were cautious and ready to make other plans.
At the Eastern Market stop, Edna Greene said she had planned for the extra travel time. She left her home in Prince George’s County 30 minutes earlier than usual and, so far, was only a few minutes late to work.
Things seemed to be going smoothly, said Greene, a worker at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“The buses were crowded, but it serves the needed purpose,” Greene said. “I just don’t like how dirty those buses are.”
If the Metro and shuttle bus commute becomes too complicated, Greene has two alternate plans: riding a shuttle that runs from Prince George’s County or taking a train to Union Station.
“Tomorrow I’ll try another one,” she said. “I’m just trying to figure out what the best option is.”
Lori Aratani, Paul Duggan, Mary Hui, Luz Lazo, Elise Schmelzer and Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.