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Riders ask about slow Orange Line

Several Metro riders have written to ask why the outbound Orange Line trains are slow between East Falls Church and West Falls Church. Metro says there are no speed restrictions on that section of track. There is a work zone farther out, between Dunn Loring and Vienna, where trains must move at 35 to 45 mph. That's where Metro is replacing cross-ties, and work that is scheduled to continue this weekend.

Metro does order trains to slow for a variety of reasons. (I know: Many riders will say, "How can we tell?") Scheduled track work is a common reason for slowdowns. The trains would move slowly whenever workers are present, and they might be ordered to move slowly over a portion of track that has just been repaired. But again, that's not the case between East and West Falls Church right now.

There's also unscheduled maintenance. A Metro track walker might find something unusual, possibly a crack in a rail. The transit authority might order trains to share a track around that zone while workers make an assessment of how big a problem they've got. They might be able to stabilize a problem like a cracked rail and allow trains to use that track again under reduced speed. Then overnight, the rail would be replaced. There's no issue like this between East and West Falls Church.

Because of our endless heatwave, I suspected that Metro might have imposed a heat restriction on the Orange Line. Metro, other rail lines, will sometimes order trains to slow down above ground out of concern that heat kinks might develop on the tracks ahead.

But Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said that train operators have not been asked to slow down because of heat issues.

Metro also would order trains to slow down, or stop and wait, inspectors check the performance of a track circuit. That was quite common in the months after the June 2009 Red Line crash, but it's far less common now, following a series of such inspections and equipment replacements. Look here for a list of track circuit inspections.

So I'm going to fall back on an explanation I gave to an Orange Line rider during my online chat Monday:

The trains get bunched up in the outbound direction during the afternoon, just as they do inbound in the morning. Also, some afternoon trains stop at West Falls Church and head back downtown, to ease congestion on the busiest platforms. Turning a train back is likely to slow down the trains behind it, in the neighborhood of East Falls Church.

If the train stops, the operator should be explaining why. Some operators are very conscientious about this, making announcements one a minute during a stoppage, even if nothing has changed. Others, not so much. Then again, it might be a problem with the speaker system.

By Robert Thomson  | August 11, 2010; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  Metro, Orange Line  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Your fallback should be this: Metro Lies.

Last week when Metro was running Orange Line trains 12-15 minutes apart because of problems on the Blue Line, they were still slowing down at this location.

Posted by: jiji1 | August 11, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Why is it when a train is pulling out of EFC, heading for WFC, it begins it's run, then always stops just a few yards out? I now take the bus (3B) from Rosslyn to WFC.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 11, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't ride the Orange that far out but I've noticed a similar slowdown over the last month or so in both directions on the Orange Line between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom. Prior to this slow down there was one between Foggy Bottom and Farragut West which a few of the train operators explained as a "circuit malfunction in the area."

Posted by: chass80 | August 11, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

When Metro refuses to provide an explanation for something obvious to riders, why do they wonder why they have no credibility?

Posted by: DragonofAnger | August 11, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Why does Metro insist on lying to everyone about their performance issues? Just last night around 8:00 PM (no train back up issues since I had to wait 12 minutes for it to show up) the announcer explained that we would be going slowly for a while between EFC and WFC due to "speed restrictions in the area" and that after we cleared the restricted area "we would return to normal speed."

As a regular Orange Line rider, I will skip any jokes about the meaning of "normal speed" on the Orange Line.

That said, I suspect that most Orange Line riders and indeed most Metro Rail riders were be completely stunned if they were to see that Metro claims a 90% or higher on-time rate on the Orange Line and that they run 90+ cars an hour through on the Orange Line.

My experience is that Metro has not managed to meet its schedule on the Orange Line for even 1 continuous hour at any point in the last 5 years or more and certainly has not experienced an average 90% on time rate for a single month since it opened.

I have a new proposal to improve performance on the Orange Line. Let's carefully explain that if there is not a vast improvement in performance on the Orange Line, then the responsible employees will be terminated for cause (i.e., gross incompetence), their pension rights terminated, and then sued for every penny over minimum wage that they were ever paid.

Further, since it seems impossible for this level of incompetence to exist without corruption being present, we should further explain that the gravy train will likely end unless they stop stealing long enough to improve performance to minimially acceptable levels (which, of course, would still be many times better than the current performance).

My experience is that Metro Rail's line employees are hard-working, dedicated, and proud individuals. Being a Metro Manager however appears to require that you stay up all night studying for the urine test in the morning. So, Metro Rail management, fix the problems now or be fired now and stop lying about the problems it is simply ridiculous at this point to continue to deny the obvious.

Posted by: PAZ2354 | August 11, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

"So I'm going to fall back on an explanation I gave to an Orange Line rider during my online chat Monday:

The trains get bunched up in the outbound direction during the afternoon, just as they do inbound in the morning. Also, some afternoon trains stop at West Falls Church and head back downtown, to ease congestion on the busiest platforms. Turning a train back is likely to slow down the trains behind it, in the neighborhood of East Falls Church."

No and no. The trains slow down and/or stop dead at the exact same place every day. There is no bunching of trains this far out on the line - especially early in the evening rush when I am riding - and when I get off the trains at WFC they continue on to Vienna (i.e. they don't offload the trains at WFC as they would have to do if they were going to send the train back). Clearly there is a bad patch of track at this spot that needs to be fixed, or something else going on here. Also, this has been happening every day for at least six weeks now, so if there was a bunching or a train reversing or something else going on ahead, why would the operator never announce it when they announce such things everywhere else in the system? (The fact that it happens daily and yet no announcement is ever heard would tend to preclude the possibility of an odd speaker outage, I'd think.) It would be nice if Metro would at least acknowledge what is going on here, nicer if they would actually do something about it. If they persist in saying this isn't happening, then perhaps they might want to check on what their operators are up to there. Picking up lunch from the wife standing alongside the track? Doing a drug drop? The possibilities are endless - and many of them are likely illegal.

Posted by: FeelWood | August 11, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I've also heard that we're slowing down for speed restrictions. It happens every day at the exact same spot no matter what time of day. I've had it happen during rush hour and I've had it happen at 9pm when trains are 15 minutes apart.

Right before we get to the WFC station they speed up only to slow down to stop at the station. It is definitely not because of train bunching.

That might be what Steven Taubenkibel told you but he's either misinformed or they're not willing or able to give out the real issue.

Posted by: archers44 | August 11, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I've noticed this and I don't even ride Metro, but I regularly drive on I-66. It was enough where I noticed and asked myself, "Why are those trains going so slow?" They are practically crawling.

Posted by: thetan | August 11, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

i don't buy any of the explanations. this has been going on at least a month. it happens every trip, afternoon or late night. only once has a train operator made an announcement and that was to say that there was, indeed, a speed restriction placed on this stretch of track. we're not talking 35-40 mph, we're talking herky-jerky 1-5 mph shortly after leaving east falls up to about the great falls street overpass. if metro is claiming that there are no speed restrictions here, they are either being disingenuous or they are woefully misinformed. considering exiting at east falls and taking a longer cab ride home.

Posted by: jryanmy | August 12, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I took the Orange line westbound from the Capitol to West Falls Church on Thursday, 8/12/10. The car had poor air conditioning, and from Ballston on it was start-and stop all the way. I hadn't taken the Metro for over a year, and it instantly reminded me of why I stopped using the system, even though my work was willing to pay 100% of the fare. I'd rather enjoy my motorcycle ride to work, which takes literally half the time that the Metro does.

Posted by: phog | August 18, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

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