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Relief not easy to find

Does this Metro rider's experience match your own during the past few weeks of hot weather? She encounters the double threat of air conditioning and escalators.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I read your advice in Sunday's Washington Post about escaping a rail car without air conditioning and had to let out a chuckle. This past Wednesday, I got on a Red Line train at Judiciary Square sometime between 5 and 5:10 pm. I quickly realized that there was no air conditioning in my rail car, so I dragged my 34-week-pregnant belly and my large rolling litigation bag down the platform at the next station and sought refuge in a different car.

The second car was no better. I lasted in the second car until the Van Ness Station, where I dragged myself out onto the platform, hoping to try a third car, but of course the doors shut before I was able to get in. So, I waited for the next train and recuperated on the air-conditioned platform. I was hopeful that the next train would have air conditioning.

No such luck. I got into the next train, and it was at least as hot as the cars in the previous train had been. At this point, I started sending e-mails to my husband containing language that cannot be repeated here. I was determined to make it to the Bethesda Station without passing out, but the hot, stagnant air was really getting to me.

So, at Friendship Heights -- just one stop short of Bethesda -- I got off the train at approximately 5:25 p.m. Again, I was unable to make it into another car before the doors closed. Surely, the next train -- my third of the evening -- would have air conditioning.

But again, no such luck. Fortunately, I only had one stop to go. Then, to add insult to injury, as often happens at the Bethesda Station, where the escalator from the platform up to the station has been under repair for an inordinate amount of time, perfectly able-bodied patrons crowded into the elevator in front of me and left me standing on the platform with my huge bag and belly, feeling nearly faint from the ride, to await the next elevator.

Shame on Metro. There is no excuse for anyone to have to endure such a commute.

-- Ellen Epstein, Bethesda

DG: There are two problems with the heat on the rail cars. One is that it's just plain hot out, and it's difficult to adequately cool an interior space with six doors opening every couple of minutes. That part we have to deal with by dressing appropriately for the season. Temperatures in cars with working air conditioning are likely to be in the 80s on hot days.

But the really hot cars, the ones I'm saying you should abandon as quickly as possible and report to Metro, have busted equipment. You'll know them as soon as you board. Metro should be checking for such cars during a walk-through at the ends of the lines. But there's no reason we can't be part of the solution by reporting those hot cars to the Metro staff.

Meanwhile, about those escalators: Bethesda is an almost constant problem. But the scene that got the most attention Monday was at Dupont Circle, where all the Q street escalators were out during the morning rush.

Metro's buzz phrase now is "state of good repair" and how we need to get there. Metro could put itself in a good place with many riders by showing some quick results in these two very tangible areas of air conditioning and escalator repair.

But here again, there are things we can do for each other: I've had several complaints about how riders are treating each other on those Bethesda escalators between the platform and mezzanine. There's no point getting angry at other riders or cutting someone out of a line. Annoying as the escalator outage is, it's still just a short walk. Be patient with fellow riders.

By Robert Thomson  | July 12, 2010; 3:35 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, Red Line  
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It may be tough to cool a rail car on a hot day with the doors opening frequently, but the NYC subway system manages to do it to the extent that I carry a shawl with me to keep from freezing solid. It sounds to me like Metro needs new rail cars with better AC units.

Posted by: northgs | July 12, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm with you northgs...I lived in NYC for 4 years and don't recall any issues with the AC not working on subway cars. The platforms were a different story because NYC makes no attempt to air-condition their underground stations.

Of course the MTA is billions in the hole due to their capital expenditures... :)

Posted by: chass80 | July 12, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Fiddlesticks. I enjoyed a fine, cool ride on railcar #1001; possibly the oldest car in the entire fleet. This is not a design problem; It's maintenance.

Dr. G should track that railcar down and give it a ride before it is retired from service.

Posted by: Habco07122010 | July 12, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

The Red Line, frankly, is a complete mess, and it's going to take more than a few rider phone calls to fix the problems. From car after car with no AC to 8-to-12-minute gaps between trains at rush hour, from dangerously overcrowded trains and platforms to operators who can't run their trains without giving everyone whiplash, it's just gotten really old for us frequent riders.

And those Q St. exit escalators at Dupont Circle! There are three escalators at that exit, and they just underwent massive rehab last fall. It was only a few weeks into 2010 when they started breaking down again, and ever since then, at least one of those escalators has been out of service every weekday. Frankly, if Metro can't fix the problems with the escalators, it needs to hire someone who can.

The real question is, will Metro ever listen to its riders and fix the problems that plague the system? Since moving to the area in 2004, I've watched the system rapidly decline with more delays, more safety problems, more breakdowns, more escalator problems, and so on every year. If anything is ever going to change, Metro and the federal, state, and local governments are going to have to get serious about management, operations, AND dedicated funding. If that doesn't happen, I have little faith that anything will ever improve.

Posted by: brimadison | July 12, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I had an oddly contradictory experience on Metro last week. I left an overly crowded but cool car for the virtually empty car next to it. It was miserably hot, but I had a seat and a "cool bandana" that I'd just taken out of the fridge. I only ride a few stops, and knew I could easily tolerate the heat. At L'Enfant Plaza, I think it was, a Metro maintenence worker demanded that we all leave the hot car and cram into the crowded but air conditioned car. The light were turned off and the car was put out of service. I wound up waiting on the platform for two trains to pass before there was a car that didn't make me feel like a sardine. If we're willing to ride in a hot car, why can't we do so?

Don't get me started on elevator outages...

Posted by: kbockl | July 12, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Part of the problem here is fellow riders who, if they were indeed able-bodied, should have let the pregnant person use the elevator first.

Posted by: DOEJN | July 12, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Habco07122010, That's a great idea about riding the oldest car before it retires. I think there is a 1000 car.(I just hope it retires before I do!)

And one of the surprises to me as I went car-hopping last week with the Gridometer was that the coolest temperature I recorded was on a 1000 Series car. (That was 75 degrees, while the hottest one was a 5000 Series car, at 100 degrees.)

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | July 12, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Stupidity is being 34 weeks pregnant in a Washington summer. (planning is everything) Arrogance is expecting the fellow commuters to care about your stupidity.

Posted by: alterego3 | July 12, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse


Stupidity is being 34 weeks pregnant in a Washington summer. (planning is everything) Arrogance is expecting the fellow commuters to care about your stupidity.

Posted by: alterego3 | July 12, 2010 8:13 PM"

I have some thoughts about what your mother should have done when she found she was pregnant with you, regardless of what month it was . . .

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 12, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Don't you get it? Able-bodied patrons are in the elevator because they are MORE IMPORTANT than you are.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 13, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, Dr G., but I think you giving Metro way too much benefit of the doubt here.

I have have lived in the area and used Metro since the late 80s. There is a string of hot weather EVERY summer (some more than others). 15, 20 years ago, you would occasionally come across a car with barely (or non) working A/C--NOT at least one car on nearly every train. And the A/C in the stations worked, too.

Metro has been steadily going to "heck in a hand basket," especially the past 10 years.

@jiji1--I've been known to run over the toes of these types of people with my wheelchair...:)

Posted by: ceebee2 | July 13, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

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