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Metro to increase weekend train service during cherry blossom season

No daytime track work will be scheduled for four weeks to cut down on delays

The cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin have yet to reach peak bloom, as seen near the Jefferson Memorial on Monday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

After two years of discouraging crowds from gathering at the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season, Metro announced Monday it will increase the number of trains operating over the next four weekends to help visitors restart their pilgrimage to see the blooming flowers.

Starting Saturday, Metro will increase weekend service while forgoing daytime track work for four weekends, lessening wait times for trains in crowded stations. The increased frequency is in contrast to the closing of stations and service reductions during the past two seasons — the latest sign that regional leaders are moving beyond the pandemic.

The blossoms draw scores of visitors from around the world to take in the sight of pink and white blossoms that form canopies along the water near the Jefferson Memorial. The nearly 3,000 trees that line the basin were a gift from Japan in 1912 as a symbol of friendship between the countries.

The National Park Service predicts the trees will be at peak bloom between March 22 and March 25. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival will be from March 20 to April 17.

Metro will run the additional trains from Saturday until April 17, raising weekend service to weekday service levels. Trains on the Red Line will arrive every 10 minutes, on average, and will arrive every 20 minutes on other lines. In downtown D.C., where most stations are served by multiple lines, trains will arrive every six to 10 minutes, according to Metro.

Two years ago, Metro shut down 19 stations, including the two nearest the Tidal Basin — Smithsonian and Arlington Cemetery — to dissuade people from gathering, limit employee exposure to the virus and cut down on the use of sanitation supplies. Last year, the National Park Service directed people to view the blossoms online from a video feed.

From the archives: Metro to close 19 stations indefinitely to limit employees’ exposure to coronavirus

Metro continues to operate with a shortage of trains during a federal investigation into a safety defect that has sidelined about 60 percent of its rail cars since mid-October. The absence of nearly 750 cars has forced Metro to reduce service, but transit officials said they have enough trains to meet the seasonal demand.

“Cherry Blossom season is one of the biggest attractions of the year and Metrorail is stepping up service to better serve customers,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement.

Metro plans to release a limited-edition SmarTrip card designed by Lea Craigie-Marshall, the official artist of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, featuring the pink cherry blossoms and a Monarch butterfly. The commemorative cards will be available in specially marked fare vending machines at the Navy Yard and L’Enfant Plaza stations starting Friday.

Officials said the Smithsonian station, the closest to the Tidal Basin, will probably be busy over the next four weeks, recommending that riders use the L’Enfant Plaza or Federal Triangle stations to avoid crowds.