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Rally riders strain Metro

UPDATED, 5:21 p.m. As of about 20 minutes ago, Metro Center was still crowded. The Red Line platform headed to Shady Grove was packed, six people deep, from end to end.
The Smithsonian station is also crowded, about two to three people deep.
However, the Capitol South Metro station was relatively uncrowded.

UPDATED: 3:18 p.m.

We're getting reports from Washington Post staff around the area on, well, gridlock on the Metro.

At 2 p.m. at L'Enfant Plaza, customers reported hearing a loud noise and one of the escalators went out of service with passengers on board. Four people were injured, Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said, though all reported injuries were non-life-threatening. Currently, the entrance to the station at 9th and D Streets SW is closed, but all others are open.

The National Archives-Navy Memorial Metro station was briefly closed by police because of an unattended backpack found outside around 12:30 p.m. Trains were allowed to pass through without stopping. Metro had shuttle bus service in place between L'Enfant Plaza and Gallery Place-Chinatown. L'Enfant Plaza reopened at 1 p.m.

As of 2 p.m., Gates said a preliminary count showed 329,000 people had entered the Metro system. On a typical Saturday, between 325,000 and 350,000 people use Metro.

Now that the Rally to Restore Sanity has ended, Gates recommended that people don't leave immediately to get on a train, to allow the congestion to pass. "Stay in town and go get a bite to eat," Gates said.

Earlier in the day, there were reports of heavy congestion around the Metro system. Some Metro trains were reportedly coming into D.C. so full that they could not allow any new passengers to board at stops in the District. Passengers were getting on outbound trains, hoping to ride the circuit all the way around and come back in, but those trains were full, too. Similarly, an Orange Line train arrived at the end of the line in Vienna completely packed with people riding the opposite direction to get to the rally. Green and Yellow line trains were unboardable at U Street as of 11:30 a.m. Trains were infrequent, at capacity, moving at a snail's pace. Everyone wass going for cabs.

Earlier at the Van Ness Metro station, dozens of people were streaming out onto Connecticut Avenue because they said the system was overloaded with rally-goers.

"If you get on the pad, its completely full and all the trains coming into the station are so full you can't get on," said Jeff Blum, 26, of Van Ness. "It's shocking. Now we're trying to decide if we want to run or forget about it." Dozens of people waited at the bus stop, but the buses were also full, causing some to wave money in the air to try to buy a ride to the Mall.

On the Red Line, the Forest Glen Metro station lot was reportedly "completely full." Says a Post staffer: "That never happens on weekends."


With the Rally to Restore Sanity on the Mall, homecoming weekend at University of Maryland and Howard University and preparations for the Marine Corps marathon tomorrow, it's a mess out there on Metro. Here's an update:

Red Line riders taking the train from Glenmont should add at least 20 minutes of travel time to get around work on the elevated tracks at Rhode Island Avenue. Passengers coming in from the western end of the line, the Shady Grove side, should add at least half an hour for the trains to get around work on the Rockville platform.

Orange Line riders should add at least half an hour to a trip between Stadium-Armory and Cheverly stations. This is where Metro will be doing some preparatory work for a big effort to stabilize the tracks on the following weekend.

Green Line riders should add at least 20 minutes between Fort Totten and Prince George's Plaza, where maintenance workers will be out on the tracks.

By Washington Post staff reports  | October 30, 2010; 3:18 PM ET
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Metro was particularly ill-prepared today. I understand that the organizers have to request extra service, but with the limited service they had, they were still running 6-car trains on the Orange line. Really? And when trains passed us inbound around noon, we tried to ride outbound to Vienna and were removed from the train at West Falls Church, stranding us there, as there was no way to get either outbound or inbound at that point. All the platforms were packed, the stations were packed -- a total mess.

Posted by: lilyg25 | October 30, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Yet another major Metro fail on the Orange line. At Clarendon scores of passengers backed up in the station lobby trying to squeeze through only one working turnstile (the slow handicapped turnstile). Station attendant completely inattentive. Then find platform packed with 100s of would-be riders. When train arrives it is impossible to board. Trains jam packed. Trains have few cars and much too infrequent to handle the event. Was Metro management completely unaware? Unable to plan? Just plain stupid? Was this passive-aggressive move to keep people away from the rally? I never got there. Very frustrating.

Posted by: washpest | October 30, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Metro made a bad impression today on thousands of users. We arrived at Ballston just after 10 a.m. to find the platforms dangerously jammed with people trying to go to the rally. Trains were running only every 11 minutes. A trainload of us went over to the other side, got on an outbound train, rode out to Vienna, and refused to get off the train until they turned it around and took us back into town. Total time to get to the rally: 2 hours. Couldn't they have anticipated the need for more trains?

Posted by: harper91 | October 30, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

And as I pointed out earlier: shame on this blog for not covering the "heavy congestion" earlier than AFTER the rally ended.

Whether you are for or against this rally, you needed to know how it impacted the Metro system. Ignoring it was completely irresponsible.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 30, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Can't say for sure but it doesn't sound like they were doing anything different to try to accomodate you guys!

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | October 30, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

METRO FAIL - Again as usual, Metro employees fail to plan accordingly. Everyone in the region knew this was going to be one of the busiest travel weekends; rally, homecomings, marathon - really Metro, you might want to hire someone who has a sense of what is happening in the region and attempt to make service decisions without someone having to ask. Idiots!

Posted by: Logan1245 | October 30, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

This was a complete and utter failure by WMATA. I spent 90 minutes on the platform at West Falls Church. In that 90 minutes, only four trains came. They were already completely packed, and fewer than 10 people got on each train. I was alone - no stroller/wheelchair/luggage, nothing, and could not get on. After 90 minutes I gave up and went home. Shameful.

Posted by: Marimom | October 30, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

For what it is worth, when we were preparing to leave, we boarded at Smithsonian and headed east instead of west. Got off at Capitol South where it was relatively uncrowded, and crossed the platform to wait for a westbound Orange line train.

The message boards were confusing - they showed an unlabeled train with an unknown number of cars coming with an Orange line train after. The unlabeled train arrived with a sign that said "No passengers", but it stopped and switched to "Orange". On top of that it was an 8-car train. But this train was packed by the time we left L'Enfant plaza.

Posted by: jackrussell252521 | October 30, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

There should be an investigation into why Metro was so ill prepared for this rally!

Service was totally inadequate: packed platforms, already-full trains, 10 - 15 minute waits between trains, hardly any crowd control (only saw one instance of it at Metro Center), empty trains passing through full platforms without stopping, and inexplicable stops between stations.

The most serious of all was the panic and crowd stampede when an escalator collapsed at L'Enfant Plaza.

Whatever Metro officials were in charge of today's "service" should be fired.

Posted by: morrisdancer | October 30, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

I was in the same boat as Marimom & lily. I was at the West Falls Church station at 11, and saw only 4 SIX CAR trains go by in 50 minutes. If they want to stick to their usual train-every-14-minutes thing they usually do, fine, I don't know how hard it is scheduling extra train drivers when they're already scheduling extra drivers the next day for the marathon. But for the love of intelligence, use EIGHT CAR TRAINS. They could have at least snuck in an extra train straight from the railyard to west falls church to alleviate some crowding there and who knows how much crowding further down the line. I left simply because I can't stand there forever in false hope. MAJOR METRO FAIL.

On another note, does anyone know how the buses were? I thought about doing that but I don't know the routes at all into downtown.

Posted by: VelocityAtrocity | October 30, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I have a hard time believing only ONE outbound train was packed with ralliers when it arrived at Vienna. I was in a train like that, and there were so many people waiting to get on at each of the Orange line stations...

No way was Metro prepared for this. We got to Ballston at 10:25 and PACKED trains were running 12-14 minutes apart. We had to let 3 packed trains pass before we decided to go outbound, stayed in the train at Vienna and waited 10+ minutes at Vienna before it turned around. Two and a half hours to get to Smithsonian stop (from our Ballston starting point).

Posted by: BforBecky2003 | October 30, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

We waited 2 hours after the rally to try to get home. We got on at Metro Center at 5:15 or so (a train a few minutes earlier was too full). Our train was almost packed, and people were screaming at each other to move towards the center of the car. By the time we got on, it was full.

Dr. Gridlock, is it normal for Metro to need more than 2 hours to get people home from an event like this? I was disappointed. Should we have waited 3 hours?

Posted by: BforBecky2003 | October 30, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

What a nightmare. Got to the Courthouse Metro a little before 10. Decided to ride out to Vienna since trains headed into the city were packed. Rode all the way to Vienna and then took the train straight back into town. Took over an hour and a half to get into the city. The line for tickets at Vienna was going from the machines, out over the overpass and all the way to the parking garage. People were all the way up to the platform edge at Clarendon, Ballston and Rosslyn. A little scary.

Posted by: Emmy11 | October 30, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

The Orange line was just a nightmare. No more big crowd events for me. It was just too unpleasant.

Posted by: steve_k2 | October 30, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Why would Metro run ANY 6 car trains on a day like today? Are they purposely trying not to make money? They took what should have been a windfall for them, and turned it into a disaster fo an awful lot of people.

Posted by: steve_k2 | October 30, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

steve_62 is exactly right. This was an unmitigated disaster for rally-goers, but an all to unfamiliar occurrence for DC-area residents. It was raining money today, and Metro had a poncho, rainboots and six umbrellas. They couldn't be bothered.

When businesses in competitive markets operate like this, they are bankrupted (usually quickly). Metro's position as mass transit monopolist means that we continue to be subjected to whatever pathetic excuse for "service" they feel like offering. Ugh.

Posted by: dsk36 | October 30, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Huge Metro fail. The Orange line appeared to be on a regular Saturday schedule. Even with original estimates of 60,000 coming to the rally, I would have expected to see some extra trains in the morning to get folks into town. How can WMATA ignore an event like this?
Importantly, thousands of people visiting our city got an awful first impression of a transit system that used to be held up as an example. Here was DC's chance to grab those tourist dollars, and FAIL. You didn't even get lots of NoVa dollars, like mine.

Posted by: DC_Grrl | October 30, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

As noted above. Orange line was a nightmare. Long lines almost out to the parking line. No one around to inform people what each line was for. Trains running over 10 minutes apart and totally packed by the time reached West Falls Church. Most people had to take the train to Vienna and return back to Dc to get a spot on the train. It took me almost 2 and 1/2 hours to get to DC.One metro worker at Smithsonian station just screaming at people. Appalling to hear on the evening news that Metro says it was prepared.

Posted by: alieberman3 | October 30, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

I had a similar experience on the Red Line this morning -- took me well over an hour to get from Cleveland Park to Gallery Place. Like a lot of people I did the "two-step" out to Medical Center (some other people on the outbound train with me went further, but I was traveling alone, so I decided to risk it). Forced my way onto an already packed car on a train that inched it's way downtown. Six-car trains only. Trains seemed to be running erratically, about every 15 minutes.

I heard stories about station staff being incredibly angry with the situation, and I don't blame them -- Metro should have scheduled extra station staff as well.

I, too, am confused as to why Metro was so ill-prepared and why they expect the organizers of an event to "request" additional service. It's Metro's responsibility to plan adequate service. They can't just let the situation become dangerous and chaotic and say "It's not our fault; we knew there was a huge event, but no one asked us for extra service so we sat on our hands."

Posted by: Zuleika | October 30, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

Where did the humor go, hee hee..

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | October 31, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

The most astonishing sight to me was at Greenbelt between 9:30-10 am, where there was a line 3-10 people deep at least a mile long winding through the parking lot, just waiting to get into the station. The parking lot wasn't even full with cars!

Posted by: mereel | October 31, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Metro fail? Hardly. For the past 30 years we've been screaming we want lower taxes, less government! Any politician that dares to ignore that Reaganesque mantra doesn't last long in politics.

So get used to living in your low tax/small government world people - and stop whining! There is no free lunch - you get what you pay for.

Posted by: Trakker | October 31, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

This better be the last time that I hear "officials" recommend that people take Metro to a large downtown event. I truly can't believe the degree of ineptitude that Metro exhibited on Saturday. At what point did it become evident that they didn't have anywhere near the number of trains they needed? 8 am? 9 am? Surely by 9:30. Yet they did absolutely nothing. There were thousands and thousands of people who travelled cross country to attend the rally, and were stopped by Metro. It reminded me of the Purple Ticket fiasco at the inauguration, but on a much greater and much more insidious scale. I will never recommend taking Metro for a special event, and hope that Metro stops recommending it, as well.

Posted by: beachy1 | October 31, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

The Chief of MetroRail Operations is still employed, why?

Posted by: ceebee2 | October 31, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I'm a M-F commuter from Arlington...
Yesterday, we had to steer clear from the trains, and we got shut out of the first 38B we waited for at Ballston at 11ish, but we made it onto the next one (25-30 minutes apart- on time!!) We took the Circulator towards Union Station - again it was packed! We walked and rode the bus system all day around this great city - Most importantly, the drivers did a great job - they maintained a sense of humor thru the 'chaos' and made it really acceptable to crowd on with tourists and residents, young and old. Everyone was getting along fine - the system worked for me and my group!

Posted by: Auntdeni2x | October 31, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Maybe the print copy has it, but am so surprised the incident at L'Enfant is not better covered by the WP online. Apparently a number of people were injured, one seriously, when the middle escalator surged in speed just after being put into service.

My daughter and I had just walked down the right escalator and watched as the service tech put the middle escalator into service downward. Were not even through the gates to the train yet when someone came running and yelling for help and an ambulance.

According to posts on WTOP online by persons who were on that escalator, the escalator sped up for 20 to 30 seconds, causing people to fall and a pileup of bodies.

I surely hope WP and other new outlets investigate thoroughly and don't just take Metro's word for it that the elevator stopped suddenly.

Posted by: BethS | October 31, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I was on the escalator that sped up at L'Enfant Metro leaving piles of people falling and tumbling, injured at the bottom. One after another the speeding out of control, accelerating escalator, just like a high speed tread mill at a carnival, spilled screaming customers cascading on top of each other . I was lucky to be close enough to the end. I kept up with the advancing speed, ran off, and turned around to start pulling injured people out of the pileup as more were falling from above. The escalator eventually stopped, after all the damage was done. Four to the hospital. What a horror show!

Posted by: tideman1 | October 31, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

The humor has turned gothic, ha ha...

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | October 31, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Why were there no big headlines in the Washington Post today about the complete failure of the Metro system to handle yesterday's crowds? This is a major story. The WP has an obligation to investigate it.

Posted by: Menidia | October 31, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Give them a chance to interview the appropriate people and write the article. They are not super-human like Colbert.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | October 31, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I realize Metro is faced with an endless list of deferred, needed maintenance; however, I too am puzzled by Metro's performance and planning this weekend.

We saw lines in two directions snaking far outside Pentagon City for buying farecards. Many mistook these for entrance lines; no one (nor signage) explained so some waited needlessly, exacerbating crowding. Once inside the gates, we were barred from both entrances to the inbound platform. Workers then sent us to the outbound platform since they advised that all arriving trains were full. Once on the other track, we discovered the next outbound was long off. We were dismayed to watch as the people well behind us in line were invited onto an arriving inbound train that we were now far away from. An even-later crowd formed blocking our return to the inbound train platform.

I was grateful to find the crowds were mostly good-natured. We were jam-packed thoughout and one bad egg could easily have led to a dangerous situation.

On the up-side, I was pleasantly surprised to see travelers reporting concerns and a Rosslyn station worker following up constructively. Kudos to the 3 men who reported a burning smell that concerned them and to the station worker who walked to the platform with them to check it out!

Posted by: cozybirch | October 31, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I had to work yesterday (Saturday). The morning ride to work (from eastern to western part of Red Line, all within DC) was more crowded than my usual commute, but not bad. My ride back home was on a train with every square inch of space full.

It sounds like I was lucky that I was able to make it to work on time and that I didn't get injured! If people were not in such good spirits from the rally, I imagine the crowding could have led to even more dangerous situations.

I also look forward to reading more reporting on this.

Posted by: DOEJN | October 31, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

BethS and I were likely on the Metro escalator at L'Enfant at the same time. I remember watching them turn the other escalator on and wondering why they were letting it keep moving. I was under the understanding that Metro turned off escalators when there were large crowds because they couldn't handle the weight. Being as how they were directing outgoing passengers to this exit and saw the backup at the turnstiles, they knew there were massive crowds.

Most of my friends and I made it to the turnstiles when we saw one woman run up screaming, "STOP THE ESCALATORS! PEOPLE ARE FALLING!" Then, more people came demanding ambulances be called. One girl was shaking and in tears and prompted me and some others in line to whip out their phones and call 911.

Two of my friends (visiting from Baltimore Law) were at the top of the escalators trying to catch up when it happened. One is an EMT, and ended up being a first responder on the scene and disturbed by what he saw. He says he heard a sudden "whoosh!" and screams, then more screams as people ran. He said one of the injuries was a serious head wound and that it appeared at least one person was caught.

WaPo, please report and dig more into this. Someone could have been KILLED yesterday. WMATA failed not just to account for crowds, but continued to put people's lives at risk through shoddy equipment and poor crowd control. The entire WMATA board should be fired- actually, they should have been fired years ago. DC area commuters and visitors deserve better.

Posted by: MasonPatriot1 | October 31, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

WHAT WAS METRO THINKING??? The lines at East Falls Church were 45+ minutes long, followed by a wait on the platform for another 20+ minutes for a 6-car train that was too full to board. It doesn't take much to figure out that they should have been running a rush hour schedule. And why didn't WAPO report this total failure on the part of Metro more prominently? The only thing that prevented complete chaos was that the passengers were in good spirits and rolling with the punches.

Posted by: Ynjo | October 31, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

Just who is Metro kidding? From their website today:

"Metro set a new record for highest Saturday Metrorail ridership on Saturday, October 30. Officials estimate 825,437 Metrorail trips were taken, with many people traveling to the National Mall for the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.”

"In anticipation of the crowds, Metro added extra trains, and additional Metro personnel were on hand to assist customers at the fare gates and with purchasing fare cards. But because of the record setting ridership, Metro experienced unprecedented crowds throughout the day with long lines at many end-of-the-line stations early in the day as customers waited to enter the system. "

This is a total fiction. They did NOT add extra trains, they didn't anticipate crowds, and the lines were not only "early in the day". Just because they put out a press release doesn't make it the truth.

Posted by: lilyg25 | October 31, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

I think Metro could have done a better job if they had been given a much more realistic estimate of the rally attendees expected! They were not warned to expect anywhere near the number that actually attended! They did okay.

The two of us were EXTREMELY lucky to have seats all the way both going and coming home from the rally. Going: Twinbrook to Judiciary Square, Coming home: Union Station to Twinbrook.) We have lived here a long time and know how to work the system but even then, it was a miracle to have seats BOTH ways!

It was less of a hassle than July 4th usually is and also better than some recent weekend trips where extensive track work caused multiple delays. Yes, there was crowding but no fights!

Posted by: bernadete | November 1, 2010 12:52 AM | Report abuse

Gimme a break metro. There was no way you put extra trains into service. You cannot sit there with a straight face and tell me that when the redline was experiencing 10-14 minute headways both times I "tried" to get on, once in the morning about 10:30 and again at 4:00pm.

I realize that maybe you guys underestimated the potentional crowd size, but lets be real here. How long did it take you Saturday morning to realize you were vastly under capacity? By 7:30am...9am maybe? Then really how long does it take to put some extra trains in service?

Metro is a joke. I am a long term resident of DC and constantly finding myself having to defend the system, but no more. Metro, you are completely BROKEN.

Posted by: Nosh1 | November 1, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Metro's press release is Orwellian. I commute to work most Saturdays. I did not experience any extra service on 10/30 compared to any other Saturday. If anything, my ride was slower than normal because of track work.

Posted by: DOEJN | November 1, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I went to Clarendon around 11:20 & waited for over an hour, 4 packed 6 car trains went past that no one could get on. (there was no reason to stop. one train stopped on the other side only to turn around without opening it's doors. It was a mess I ended up going home to watch on tv as did hundreds of people around me. I felt sorry for people who actually had to be somewhere, there were families with luggage that might have missed their flight or bus.

Posted by: cyberjaphe | November 1, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

When I saw the uncharacteristically crowded platform at Braddock Station, we decided to bike to the rally around 10:45. Clearly people had started giving up on the Metro, as we met crowds of people carrying signs WALKING to the rally from as far south as Crystal City. We locked our bikes at an uncrowded rack south of the Washington Monument and congratulated ourselves the rest of the day on not giving a penny to enable Metro's horrible service. Probably took as long to bike as it would have to get onto a train, it sounds like...

I was disappointed Dr. Gridlock did not recommend walking or biking to the Rally when it was clear that Metro was not going to have the capacity to handle the crowds.

Posted by: liz222444 | November 1, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Metro can't handle a regular weekday commute, why should you expect them to handle your little weekend party?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 1, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Metro gets a FAIL for their service this past Saturday. Only running 6-car trains and running on a Saturday schedule meant packed cars and long, long waits. It was ridiculous that Metro couldn't (or wouldn't) run more trains, run 8-car trains, and run them to the ends of the line (where most of those from out of town for the rally got on the subway).
Metro is pathetic.

Posted by: B-rod | November 1, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I got off a completely packed train at Judiciary Square at noon. The platform was so crowded with people that some young folks were using the down escalator, which should have been turned off, to go up. The mezzanine was so packed that people starting using the emergency exit.

There was not one Metro employee in sight. Not in the booth, not making any attempt at crowd control.

Posted by: Elkay1 | November 1, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Unbelievable! Friends who'd come from New Jersey for the rally and I waited on the red line platform at Brookland while overstuffed short (!) trains held for time because they were being single tracked--Metro had chosen Saturday to do track maintenance! What were they thinking?

All the self-important Washington politicos seemed to be against this rally, and that group includes the geniuses at Metro. For years they've delayed maintenance while congratulating themselves and paying themselves well. And they chose this weekend to keep rally goers away. A train conductor told us that frontline staff all knew to expect a crowd this weekend, but the higher ups chose to run short trains and do maintenance. Whatever the rally count, it is missing the many of us who wasted time--and money--trying to get there by metro.

AND--where is WAPO in reporting this absurd and negligent management of metro? Hardly a word--other than some bragging about how many riders metro gained over the weekend. Locked in insanity.

And Washington wants more people and considers itself a world class city. NOT!

Posted by: phoebebenedict | November 1, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

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