This post has been updated.
We’re about halfway through Metro SafeTrack Surge No. 10, so let’s take stock of where things stand.
Metro says ridership on the Red Line was down about 20 percent last week, but if you rode during rush hour you probably didn’t notice the decline. Ridership remains high for the number of trains Metro is operating as it continues the 25-day shutdown between Fort Totten and NoMa-Gallaudet.
Trains are running every six minutes instead of the usual three to six during the rush hour, which means capacity along the western end of the line has decreased by 40 percent.
So, as some of you put it on Twitter, it’s been a headache.
Rush hour trips north of Fort Totten were down about 40 percent last week, according to Metro. On the west side of the line, ridership was down between 10 and 20 percent all day, officials said.
The impact of the closure on the eastern part of the line has sent more commuters to the bus system. The limited-stop route S9, which runs from the Silver Spring Metro to downtown Washington, saw a 25 percent increase in ridership last week, Metro said. The No. 80, which travels from Fort Totten, with a stop at Brookland Metro, to the Kennedy Center, saw an 8 percent increase.
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said more people took the 70S, G8, P6 and other routes near the work zone. Even the L2, which serves Red Line stations on the west side of the line, saw a small increase in ridership. There also are reports of greater bike traffic on the Metropolitan Branch Trail from Brookland into downtown D.C.
In addition, more people are choosing MARC to reach downtown. The MARC Brunswick line saw an increase of about 500 passengers on Oct. 29, the day the surge began, a Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman said.
Still, many riders continue to brave Metro during the surge, which continues through Nov. 22. The shuttle service between Fort Totten and NoMa is averaging about 11,000 passenger trips per day, Ly said. Riders have complained about long delays on the shuttle buses, headways between trains being much longer than the advertised six minutes, and not enough eight-car trains.
And, in addition to the SafeTrack impacts, there have been the usual unexpected disruptions. Crews were sent to make “unscheduled” track repairs at Takoma the day after the surge began; a deer on the tracks creates chaos Friday, forcing Metro to suspend service between the Forest Glen and Silver Spring; and a mechanical problem took a train out of service at Friendship Heights on Monday evening, leaving hundreds of riders waiting for the next one.
The good news is that the track and structure work being done as part of the surge is ahead of schedule. A progress report this week said that nine days into the surge, crews have concluded about 45 percent of the work. They have replaced more than 1,500 ties, repaired signal lights, replaced cables near the Brookland station, and worked on the traction power system.
Crew are replacing many of the basic track components: thousands of new fasteners, bolts and wooden rail ties. But don’t count on the normal schedules to return before the scheduled Nov. 22 completion date. If work is completed ahead of schedule, Metro said, crews will perform additional maintenance work.
And if you think six-minute headways are bad, remember, they could increase to eight minutes under General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s proposed budget. (Metro says trains would arrive every 2 to 4 minutes at transfer stations in the system’s core.)
“It’s going to be bad,” a station manager said last week.
In the days before Surge No. 10, whenever a train was too crowded, I waited for the next one. If I wasn’t in a big hurry, I even let a couple of trains go by until one with open seats arrived. Generally it could take me 10 minutes to get aboard. These days when trains arrive every six minutes, waiting for the next one isn’t an option. You hear a train approaching and you run down the escalators to try to catch it because the next one might be even more crowded.
This week, the morning trains were noticeably more packed. At 8:20 a.m. Monday as I am rushing down the escalators at Friendship Heights, I hear the “doors closing” announcement. The train is gone by the time I set foot on the platform.
When the next one arrives, it has standing-room-only near the doors. A man with two children tries to move his stroller to make more space for the dozen or so people entering, but we all know it’s going to be a rough ride. A stop later, at Tenleytown, a few people make their way in. Two passengers squeeze in at Van Ness. But forget it, Cleveland Park and Woodley Park folks. No more room for you.
Several people exit at Dupont, and you see some smiles as people start getting some space. But more people come in and we are back at being packed like sardines. That’s when I am reminded that the bus might be a good idea going back home.