The first weekday commute under the new SafeTrack maintenance project went fairly smoothly for thousands of displaced Blue Line riders, despite some extra crowding at the L’Enfant Plaza transfer station.
These are my observations from riding trains and waiting on platforms during the Monday morning rush between Franconia-Springfield and Gallery Place:
Franconia-Springfield station. People must be getting used to these disruptions. I saw no crowding or confusion at the terminal station. I saw two people check out the poster on the mezzanine describing Metro’s basic plan to eliminate Blue Line service through Feb. 28 and provide only Yellow Line Rush Plus service from Springfield. Everyone else just went through the fare gates and proceeded to the platform. Well, not everybody. It was so cold and windy on the platform that some people sensibly held back in the protected area until they saw a train pull into the station.
On the platform, Metro staffers with bullhorns directed riders to the Yellow Line Rush Plus train, as did the electronic next-train sign. I boarded a train car at the bottom of the escalator rather than walking forward to what would have been less crowded cars. But even mine had seats available.
I would have had no reason to avoid Metrorail at Springfield if my sole concern were to avoid crowding.
Inbound travel. My rail car got crowded at Braddock Road and stayed that way to L’Enfant Plaza. But conditions were never oppressive. Nobody waiting on a platform was shut out because of crowding. According to the platform message boards, many of the Yellow Line Rush Plus trains were eight cars long.
Announcements. I think the quality of the train operators’ announcements depended on the equipment. On my outbound trip to Franconia-Springfield, the operator uttered the words “Blue Line” several times, but the rest of the message was garbled. I was aboard one of the older rail cars. On the inbound trip to the District, aboard a newer 6000 series car, the messages were very clear and had the essential information. There was one flaw: The operator repeatedly said that riders could take a shuttle bus from Pentagon to Rosslyn. That’s wrong. The shuttle goes only between Pentagon and the Arlington Cemetery station.
L’Enfant Plaza. Hundreds of riders exited the Yellow Line Rush Plus train and made for the nearest escalator bank that leads down to the Orange and Silver Line trains, and most of them waited on the Vienna/Wiehle side of the lower platform. (If you go for the lower platform, consider taking the escalators farther away from the Yellow/Green platform. They’re likely to be much less crowded.)
Although the lower platform was often very crowded with arriving passengers — some had to let the first train in go by because they couldn’t squeeze aboard — I still think riders can do this transfer rather than seek an alternative route. For example, I didn’t see any advantage in continuing my Yellow Rush Plus trip north to Gallery Place and making a transfer to the Red Line to reach another downtown station.
Crowding. I spent some time at L’Enfant Plaza just watching Yellow Line trains come and go. As so often happens, the train crowds were unevenly distributed among the rail cars, especially when the trains were eight cars long. If you feel uncomfortable on one car, you may get a better deal by moving at the next station.
Caveats. Mondays and Fridays tend to be the lighter rush hours. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the heaviest, so a Tuesday experience might be different. Also, we saw during the long SafeTrack projects last year that people spend a few days trying options before they settle on the one they think works best for them.