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Get There: July 30, 2006 - August 5, 2006

VRE Ridership Decline a Puzzlement

Post transportation editor Steven Ginsberg and I are curious about something: Ridership on the Virginia Railway Express was down slightly in the past year. Post staff writer Lena H. Sun wrote a brief in Thursday's Metro section saying that: "In the fiscal year that ended June 30, ridership declined 2 percent from the previous year ... But in each of the previous four years, ridership increased about 13 percent." What do you make of that phenomenon? VRE has been one of the great successes in regional transportation. Starting in December 2007, the Northern Virginia commuter train system will be adding 50 new bi-level cars to the service. VRE and MARC in Maryland offer a valuable option for Washington-bound commuters -- and it's not like there are any fewer of them. During the summer, the freight lines that own some of their tracks order slowdowns for all trains as a safety...

By Robert Thomson  |  August 4, 2006; 1:34 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (21)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Metro Rail Car Manager Available for Questions

Jeff Pringle, Metro's senior project manager for rail cars, is taking questions and suggestions about Metro's rail cars during an online chat from noon to 1 p.m. on Metro's Web site. Pringle can discuss Metro's newest 6000 series rail cars, which will enter service this summer, and the redesigned rail car with a new interior -- the one with the bench seats and some poles removed -- which is now taking a test drive on the Orange Line. The new rail cars were hot topics of discussion all week after Metro previewed them on Monday. Lena H. Sun wrote a story about the new designs in The Post....

By Robert Thomson  |  August 4, 2006; 11:11 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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Weekend Work Slows Metro

Summer should be easier than this. I like to recommend alternatives to driving, but this week I couldn't honestly recommend any form of activity other than telecommuting. Now, we've got Metro's plan for this weekend's service disruptions as the transit authority tests rail cars on the Green Line and and does some track work on the Blue Line. The latter has been the biggest deal to weekend riders in recent weeks. Here's what Metro says about the plan: Blue Line: From 10 o'clock tonight to midnight Sunday, Metrol will operate six-car shuttle trains sharing one track between the Franconia-Springfield and King Street stations. Passengers traveling between these locations should add 35 minutes to their schedules. Once a shuttle train arrives at the King Street station, passengers will need to transfer to a Blue or Yellow Line train to their final destination. All other Blue Line trains will run between the...

By Robert Thomson  |  August 4, 2006; 5:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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No Time to Behave Normally

It's just not normal out there. The laws of commuting behavior that applied back in the days when it was 85 degees are not suited to these times. Even a little walking -- even a little standing for a bus or train -- is enough to wilt a person in this 100 degree weather. If you're driving home from work, check the Web site's Traffic Page before you go. Ease up on the gas pedal. Things get annoying in a hurry on a day like this. This afternoon, I-66 westbound looks sluggish out beyond the Beltway. There's a Jimmy Buffett concert tonight at 8 at Nissan Pavillion. They're going to let people bring bottles of water into the seating area. The Legg Mason tennis tournament continues this afternoon and evening at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center at 16th and Kennedy Streets NW. It's a Code Orange day, meaning the air quality...

By Robert Thomson  |  August 3, 2006; 7:16 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Advice for the Afternoon Commute

It the mouth of the dog out there. Hot and slobbery. Metro will again slow down the trains to conserve power this afternoon, but I'd still bet on Metro as a way to go this afternoon. I just got back from a little midday tour of the Orange, Blue and Red Line trains. Things that don't matter so much on a normal day could be important today: -- Temperatures vary from train car to train car. If you are uncomfortable, try moving up or back a car at the next station. -- Some cars are more crowded than others, and some sections of cars are more crowded than others. It's definitely going to be warmer if there's more body heat in your neighborhood, so that's another reason to be shifting cars if you've got a long ride home. -- Trains seem to be spending more time at stations. The longer...

By Robert Thomson  |  August 2, 2006; 2:11 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Suburban Buses Are Free Today

You can ride most of the suburban bus routes for free today on our second Code Red alert day of this summer. The idea is to lessen the amount of auto emissions that contribute to pollution. The Metrobus routes in Maryland and Virginia are included in the free ride program, which is subsidized by the suburban governments. The District does not participate, so you still have to pay on the Metrobus routes in Washington. Many of the buses have "Ride Free" signs displayed or make a reference to the Code Red day, or an ozone action alert. Free Metrobuses put a red bag over the farebox. With the temperature again likely to be around 100 degrees this afternoon, Metro will probably have the same restrictions on trains as it did yesterday afternoon: The trains will be spaced out more on all lines, and will be moving more slowly on the...

By Robert Thomson  |  August 2, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Metro-wide Delays

Just got in from an hour on the trains that included short trips on the Orange, Blue and Red lines, plus some waiting around on platforms. Here's a report on the afternoon slowdown of trains that Metro initiated to conserve power: From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., I was on a packed in the middle of an Orange Line train toward Vienna that was pretty warm, on the front car of a Blue Line train in which I could have chilled beer, and a crowded Red Line train with two cars out of service. (The operator gave us time to figure that out and run for the open cars -- but an announcement wouldn't have hurt either.) The amount of crowding varied a lot. Some cars were packed -- especially around the front and rear doors -- and others half empty. My best advice is to stand on the platform...

By Robert Thomson  |  August 1, 2006; 5:11 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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Metro Warns of Slowdown

With the temperature heading toward 100 degrees, Metro will conserve power this afternoon by spacing out the trains more and slowing them down. "With these changes, passengers should prepare for delays and crowded conditions on all rail lines," Steven Feil, Metro's chief operating officer for rail, said in a statement. There will be an extra couple of minutes between the trains on all lines, and speeds will fall to 45 mph in the above ground sections. The normal top speed is 59 mph. The underground stations will get pretty hot. The cooling system is designed to regulate their temperature at 85 degrees. You can stand right underneath some of those brown pillars with the vents on top and feel absolutely no relief. Even though the rail cars and buses are supposed to keep the inside air 20 degrees cooler than the outside, when it gets this hot, and those doors...

By Robert Thomson  |  August 1, 2006; 5:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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Metro's Makeover

The first thing you notice about the experimental rail car interior that Metro is going to be testing: Wow, that carpet is clean. My second thought was that I was noticing the carpet because the car's inside seems so much more spacious. Metro officials, including Interim General Manager Dan Tangherlini and Metro board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington, were showing off two new car designs on a side track at the Reagan National Airport Station today. One of them was the test car, which you'll start to see rolling on the Orange, Red and Green lines. Bench seat in test car. (Robert Thomson) Metro wants to know how you'll react to it -- not whether you smile or frown or stare in stunned silence. They want to see where you decide to sit or stand. It's got two sets of five bench seats, toward the center of the car. Not...

By Robert Thomson  |  July 31, 2006; 3:09 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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Early Experiences on New Wilson Bridge

From Dr. Gridlock: First, thanks for all the welcoming comments and good questions this afternoon on an inaugural Live Online discussion. I think in the future I won't gas on so much and will give more room for people's questions. This was an interesting question I didn't post during the Live Online, so I thought I'd offer it here: "Del Ray, Va.: I drive to and from Suitland every day over the Wilson Bridge and have done for the last seven years. Since the opening of the new bridge span, my morning ride has gotten easier and the trip home is much worse. I am on the Beltway for the shortest possible time, from Route 1 in Alexandria to St. Barnabas Road in Prince George's County, and the bridge is the only thing that has changed. Most mornings the eastbound merge is smooth and traffic is moving at or near...

By Robert Thomson  |  July 31, 2006; 2:25 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Transit Developments Today

From Dr. Gridlock: There should be some interesting developments today on two transit issues: One is the testing of new Metrorail car configurations and the other is that report to Virginia state government on whether to build a rail tunnel through Tysons. I'm planning to check out Metro's preview of the rail car test, and I'll talk about that at 1 p.m. in a Live Online discussion. But if you happen to be in the neighborhood of the Reagan National Airport Station, Metro also is inviting the public to check out the new designs. Metro says two new things will be on display: -- A remodeled interior layout of an existing rail car featuring bench seating, more grab bars, and an open floor area to accommodate more passengers. (Metro will test this out on passengers and study their reactions. The issue is whether the bench seating design improves the flow...

By Robert Thomson  |  July 31, 2006; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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