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Easing the Orange Crush

The Orange Line from Vienna is the most crowded part of the Metrorail system during the morning rush. To make matters worse, those trains are heading toward the biggest bottleneck Metro has: the Rosslyn tunnel, where trains share a track with the Blue Line under the Potomac.

A previous posting reviewed Metro's plan to split the Blue Line at rush hour and ease congestion in the tunnel. But at the same time it decreases the number of Blue Line trains in the tunnel by three per peak hour, Metro plans to add service to the Orange Line by starting three more rush hour trains at West Falls Church. That fills up the tunnel again. So how's this going to work as Metrorail service is extended toward Dulles?

By Robert Thomson  | August 5, 2010; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Blue Line, Commuting, Congestion, Metro, Orange Line  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Prediction: the WFC trains will be four car trains. Metro will then request a fare increase in order to "upgrade" service to six car trains.

The eight-car trains removed during the recent service non-reductions will never return.

Posted by: jiji1 | August 5, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

seems pretty straightforward, actually. Those three extra trains that are starting at West Falls Church for now, will instead become Silver Line trains once that section of track is up and running. of course, 3 trains an hour won't be enough to service the silver line. But, theoretically, the opening of the silver line will reduce somewhat the demand on the orange line between Vienna and East Falls Church. This means another, say, 2-3 trains an hour can be taken off the orange line and instead run on Silver (and perhaps continue to New Carrolton, preventing that end of the line from seeing a reduction in service)

Posted by: ashfault | August 5, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I no longer take the Orange Line from WFC. Now I take the 3B bus to Rosslyn (I work at G'town U. hospital). Going home (Reston) I take the bus back to WFC. Not only does it cost so much less, it is relaxing and laidback. Never again will I take the Orange line during the week.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 5, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Metro should seriously consider running the Silver Line from Dulles to National, the Orange Line from Vienna to New Carrollton and/or Landover, and the Blue Line across the Potomac River brige now used by the Yellow Line. Of course this would require that they build another switch before the Rosslyn tunnel in order to divert the Silver Line trains onto the existing Blue Line track between Rosslyn and Pentagon, and it might also require some additional tunneling to accomodate the switch - which obviously will cost some money. But as you have pointed out, there is a limit to how many trains they can put through the Rosslyn tunnel. There are also a large number of people currently riding the Orange Line who need to switch trains at Rosslyn in order to get to the Pentagon. Wouldn't it make more sense to switch an entire trainload of these passengers via an underground switch instead of forcing them to get off and transfer one by one before sending their now emptier train through the Rosslyn tunnel choke point?

Posted by: FeelWood | August 5, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I asked the then governor of Virginia Tim Kaine this very question a few years ago at a social event and he didn't have a clue. He said "I guess the engineers will have to figure that one out", which to me means it is an issue that Metro has not even considered yet.

Posted by: rademaar | August 5, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I get on at Courthouse btw 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. One thing that I always wonder (sometimes aloud, replete with expletives) is why there never seems to be an 8-car training heading toward New Carollton during this time. When there are 6-car trains arriving more than 5 minutes apart, as is often the case, it's almost impossible to wedge into a car.

Posted by: Cossackathon | August 5, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I stopped pondering the operational decisions of metro a long time ago, concluding metro bides by chaos theory.

Posted by: 123cartoon | August 5, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

A new tunnel under the Potomac will cost billions. Meanwhile, the rest of the system is decaying faster than we can repair it. We live in an era of declining infrastructure. Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of water main bursts lately?

Posted by: Langway4Eva | August 5, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

There really needs to be another Potomac crossing, maybe going due north from Rosslyn paralleling the Key Bridge. The new right-of-way could then stop somewhere in Georgetown, go east along P Street and stop at DuPont Circle (with a new station needed, yes) and Logan Circle, then hook onto the current Yellow/Green Line right-of-way between Shaw and Mount Vernon Square. If the new Dulles rail line were to use this alignment, the Yellow Line as we now know it could be rerouted to serve both DCA and IAD as well as downtown Washington; additionally, it would bring Metro service to two areas of the city that are very congested yet are more than 10 minutes' walk from a Metro station. It also would save a color--very important for some of you, I know.

Of course, what I'm describing would be at least $5 billion, but the travel benefit it generated (in terms of time savings, for individuals who generally have a very high value of time) would bring it to a positive NPV soon--perhaps within a decade.

Posted by: rusholmeruffian | August 5, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Any idea why trains pulling into WFC during the evening rush now do so at a crawl?

Posted by: EYoung77 | August 5, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

$5 billion? I'd call it stimulus but it probably isn't enough money. Raise it to $500 billion, then you'll get Obama's attention.

Posted by: jiji1 | August 5, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Trains slow near WFC probably because of the "Silver" Line pier work going on. Metro really needs to look at current ridership and analyze whether or not the current "line" system is working. I'm sure once the Dulles line opens, loads of people will want to transfer to Reagan, but it won't be easy without a switch. Sounds like we are in for a grand mess.

Posted by: roadmapper | August 5, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Transfer from Dulles to Reagan? I honestly think this will be a trivial amount of traffic for Metro. A single Metrorail car has seats for 70-80 people (with a total capacity of 175). A six-car train seats over 400 people.

If folks were transferring from Dulles to Reagan, they probably have a narrow time window, so this route would need to be run every 15 minutes. I just don't think there are 400 people every 15 minutes who would be making that transfer.

The Silver Line is all about servicing the Megopolis of Tysons. Often, transit systems take years to build up a ridership and work hard to attract customers. The Silver Line will be packed on Day 1.

Posted by: augrim08052010 | August 6, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

rusholmeruffian is right. It simply isn't going to work with the current infrastructure. Either a third Potomac crossing or a few more sets of tracks from Rosslyn through downtown is needed. Yes, it is going to cost billions. The sooner we swallow that hard fact of life, figure out how to pay for it, and start planning and construction, the better.

But of course, we won't. All people and politicians will see is the price, and refuse to pay it. And suffer the consequences.

Posted by: jcflack1 | August 6, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

We have no 8 car trains because there are not enough functioning cars to fill a six car train. I have not seen a fully operational train in the evening from F West to EFC. Cars are taken out of service routinely. Approx once every three weeks on average I am offloaded or a train is offloaded at F West while I'm waiting. I think Metro's plan is to keep raising fares and alienating us with poor service until there are enough seats for everyone left.

BTW, is it true that walking on the escalators is what causes them to break down, or is that just a line someone's giving us?

Posted by: gohoos9297 | August 9, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

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