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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 the doors are open the more hot air pours in.
-- Trains that have just departed an above ground terminus tend to be warmer, because they've stopped for a couple of minutes at the turnaround point with the doors open.
-- There's a big temperature difference between the sunny side and the shady side of a rail car. Outbound on the Orange Line toward Vienna, the sun was on the left. Outbound on the Red Line, it also should be on the left.
-- Station temperatures vary, too. Transfer stations are warm, especially on the top level. Stations like Ballston or Union Station are warm because they're the last stations before the trains go above ground. You can feel the warm air pushing in as an inbound train enters the station. I'm starting to suspect that stations with center platforms are warmer than stations with side platforms. It certainly felt cooler near the side wall vents than it did under the center platform air towers.

circulator stop.jpg Circulator approaches stop. (Robert Thomson)

-- Suburban buses are free this afternoon because a Code Red day for bad air quality was forecast. But it's really unpleasant waiting for a bus at an exposed bus stop. See if you can find some nearby shade while still keeping an eye out for the approaching bus. If you have a choice, pick a route with more frequent service. If I'm anywhere near K Street downtown, I'll go for the DC Circulator bus, which arrives every few minutes.
-- Lots of transit advice and schedule information available on The Commuter Page.
-- If you're driving, check our Web site's Traffic Page before you leave work. It has camera views, maps and incident reports.

What advice do you have for your fellow sufferers today?

By Robert Thomson  |  August 2, 2006; 2:11 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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No advice, just some observations.

I usually take metro and the bus. Today I drove. Why? Because I have a breathing ailment and to have to possibly wait outside 20 minutes for a bus wouldn't help. Especially in the afternoon at the Pentagon. Where yes, you are covered, but if there is no breeze it get's stifling hot! And of course there is the walk to and from the metro sation and work.

Also, to your note yesterday that the Farragut North metro station was really warm. From what I heard from a coworker, the chiller broke 2 MONTHS ago. Metro has decided not to fix it yet.

I emailed metro yesterday. They got back to me today. I asked since they were running trains farther apart, if they were going to change the configuration of the trains (add more cars especially to the 4 car trains and hopefully to the 6 car trains). They said no and then gave the whole process of how they are running the trains. Well simple math would tell you that you should add more cars if possible since you are running less trains. For example: If trains normally run 6 minutes apart and have 4 cars, in 18 minutes you will have 3 trains go through a station for a total of 12 cars. So now its changed to a train running every 9 minutes. In the same time period you can run 2 6 car trains for a total of 12 cars (the same amount as before, just a different configuartion) instead of 2 4 car trains. So why won't Metro add cars to trains?

Posted by: Melissa | August 2, 2006 2:58 PM | Report abuse

"For example: If trains normally run 6 minutes apart and have 4 cars, in 18 minutes you will have 3 trains go through a station for a total of 12 cars. So now its changed to a train running every 9 minutes. In the same time period you can run 2 6 car trains for a total of 12 cars (the same amount as before, just a different configuartion) instead of 2 4 car trains. So why won't Metro add cars to trains?"

The idea is to cut down on power consumption. Each car takes X amount of power to run. In 18 minutes, if you have:
4 car trains every 6 minutes, you use 12X of power;
6 car trains every 9 minutes, you use 12X of power.
Either of the above uses the same quantity of power, defeating the purpose of running fewer trains as you are trying to reduce power consumption.

However, if you run 4 car trains every 9 minutes, you use 8X of power in those 18 minutes.

If too much power is used and causes a blackout or even a brownout, it will stop the trains, if not cause damage to the electric motors. That means the train is stuck until a rescue can be accomplished. Most likely, the train will be stopped between stations. Care to walk the tunnel or above ground for several blocks to a mile in this heat to get to the next station?

Posted by: Mike in Baltimore | August 2, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Question about how the trains have been running midday...

I know they are running at slower speeds but are they adding time between these trains as well? I have to catch a train at Union Station at 11 tomorrow and I want to figure out how much time I should leave myself. It generally takes 30 minutes to get there on metro. Would planning on 45 minutes be enough time? Any advice would be appreciated.

I took the train just two stops this morning, but it seemed to be running at usual speed (though they were more spaced out).

Posted by: Laura | August 2, 2006 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Mike in Baltimore,

WMATA is not doing this just to cut down on energy use. In fact, in everyhing that I have read, they never cite the energy issue as a reason. They always say it's because they can't run the trains at normal speed. So if its the speed that is the problem, then there is no reason why WMATA can't run longer trains.

Posted by: Melissa | August 2, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

The Metro announcement you linked to says that during rush hours "Green Line trains will depart every 9 minutes from Greenbelt and Branch Avenue." However, this morning I took the (Code Red free) bus to Greenbelt Metro -- and arrived while rush hour was still going on -- and was greeted by the electronic sign: Train to Branch Avenue departs in 11 minutes. What was up wtih THAT??

Posted by: Greenbelt Gal | August 2, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Metro is claiming that it does have to do with energy use:

"The purpose of expanding train time departures and reducing train speeds during the afternoon periods will help Metro conserve electricity, and reduce the amount of power needed to operate the trains," said Steven Feil, Metro's Chief Operating Officer for Metrorail. "With these changes, passengers should prepare for delays and crowded conditions on all rail lines." (

But there's cutting energy in case where it's not really needed (turning up thermostats, turning off unneeded lights) and there's energy for essential services (hospitals, traffic lights). Seems like the core public transit services should fit in the latter category.

Posted by: nashpaul | August 2, 2006 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Folks, one thing to keep in mind as you make your plans for Thursday is that Metro says it's doing this slowdown in the afternoons, rather than in the mornings. It's to conserve power in the afternoons, when the heat peaks, says Metro.
Laura, based on what Metro is telling us, you should proceed normally to catch your 11 a.m. train at Union Station.

Posted by: Dr. Gridlock | August 2, 2006 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Metro is full of $#%# about saving power by slowing down. They are using MORE power because everyones trip is taking longer - that causes more people to pile up at the next station. So when the train arrives, the doors must stay open longer to let more people off and on. Not to mention the AC is running longer and working harder as these slower moving, overcrowded trains go to the next station.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 2, 2006 10:13 PM | Report abuse

"Metro is full of $#%# about saving power by slowing down."


The number of people on a train increases the amount of power to propel the train down the track by a small per cent. The increased power needed for the AC is insignificant.

Offsetting both of those is the lower amount of power needed to overcome wind resistance, especially in the tunnels, when the train is going slower than normal. This is similar to the greater fuel milage a motor vehicle gets when going 45 mph vs. 65 mph. Better fuel milage translates into less fuel consumed when going from point A to point B.

Posted by: Mike in Baltimore | August 3, 2006 12:21 AM | Report abuse

It seems like Metro fails in anything but perfect conditions: Heavy rain, snow, high winds, cold weather, and now, heat. I know these are near record temperatures, but they are not completely unprecedented and should be anticipated in Metro's planning. To look at the platforms and trains today, one would have thought there had been a catastrophic event, not just a few degrees higher termpaterature than normal. Also, station temperatures are downright dangerous and Metro's statement that it is planning to fix some of the cooling systems withing the next 4 years is too little too late.

Posted by: Tim | August 3, 2006 12:22 AM | Report abuse

for the people going to Nissan who want to avoid the hassle getting out -- here's what I did at last weekends' concert. Google the set list for the concert (or find it on a popular fan site or message board). Notice what the last song is and what the first song of the encore is. Just as the last song is ending, proceed to parking lot and home you go. Yes you will miss the encore but you won't have to sit in a Manassas parking lot for hours.

Posted by: Fairfax Kenny Fan | August 4, 2006 1:19 PM | Report abuse

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