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Many Metro Disruptions This Winter

Now that the holiday season is over, Metro is resuming its weekend track work, which will be with us for the foreseeable future, the transit authority says.

This weekend, track maintenance and rail car testing on the Green and Yellow Lines will cause delays of 15 to 20 minutes, according to Metro, because the trains will be sharing a single track. Click here to see the full details on Metro's Web site.

This is just the beginning. During the winter, major track renovations will affect service on all lines. During the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend-- the weekend after this -- Metro will close Arlington Cemetery Station to replace a rail switch. During Presidents Day weekend -- Feb. 16 to 19 -- Metro will close Cheverly Station to replace another rail switch.

And it's not just weekends. Here's an example of the many projects that could affect your travels: From now until March 31, Red Line trains will single-track between Silver Spring and Forest Glen from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. most weekdays. Workers are replacing fasteners that stabilize the rails. You can find all the dirty details of the winter's work here on Metro's Web site.

Put you in the mood for a fare increase? Yes, the system is aging and this work has to be done to ensure rider safety. Does so much of it really have to be done during operating hours over so long a period? Is it a coincidence that ridership has stopped growing during the off-peak hours?

By Robert Thomson  |  January 5, 2007; 6:55 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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From the moment it was designed, Metro was inefficient. The fact that they have to resort to single-tracking to fix the tracks is an example. It is easy for them to put the burden on their customers--not so easy to examine what could be done within the system. Many people have said it but get rid of the carpets and the cushioned seats...that could save thousands right there. Get rid of the fare card system and use single fares (one fare to get on --maybe different cost from further out stations) and no need to swipe on the way out. This would also reduce traffic congestion when people exit the stations (turnstiles like in NYC).

Posted by: Deb | January 5, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

It's definitely not a coincidence that ridership has stopped growing during off-peak hours. If people can rely on a system to get them somewhere in a reasonable amount of time, they'll use it; if they have to check the Metro Web site every time they go out to see if their normal trip is subject to some sort of massive delay, they'll use more reliable means of transportation.

However, I actually accept that they have to do a lot of work during operating hours. That's a two-track system running 19 hours a day. The system needs a third track. I think it will get one eventually, even at a cost of untold billions of dollars, because it would be the single best way to ensure Metro's reliability and capacity to alleviate traffic problems.

Posted by: Lindemann | January 5, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

See Portland's MAXX system. They have three zones and pricing between zones. Now they also have the honor system when it comes to riding with very few of their own checking to see if people have the fares. Even then, there are simple ways around it such as "Oh, I lost my ticket. Do I have to buy another one at the next station?". There is untold millions of dollars lost on this system, just from the few times I rode it while living there.

Yes, remove the carpets, don't remove the padded seats. The carpets cost a lot to upkeep with vacuuming and shampooing and such. The padded seats prevent seats from being scratched up and are just as easy to clean. A simple mop to the floor and a towel to the seats would be a lot easier than the vacuum, cleaning, maintenance on the cleaners, etc. Mop heads can clean three or four 8-car trains in a fast turnaround time.

Yes, they do need another track, work at National rarely affects the trains through there because of the third track. It's a good idea, but will the money be there??? Hey, I have an idea, cut the station manager's salaries in half, hire competent station managers and you save yourself millions. Paying attention Metro???

Posted by: Single Fare | January 5, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I've stopped using Metro on weekends (I use Zipcar instead) because the delays have become so excessive over the last year.

Posted by: RD | January 5, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

It is dumb to single track during the day but maintenance of this kind comes with the territory. As a transplanted New Yorker, I can tell you NYC's subways are replete with station closings and diverted trains almost every weekend. Getting around the Big Apple by subway is far more challenging than DC; don't take for granted how good you've got it. I don't mean to offend but people here are spoiled by how good metro really is and so they get their noses bent out of joint way too easily when metro has problems. It is, after all, MASS transit and it's run by humans, so it will never be perfect. But it still works well. Be greatful.

Posted by: mikey_a | January 5, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

With Metro's constant weekend and off-peak maintenance, I have no chice but to drive at a lot of times when I really don't want to. Metro could at least run the weekday bus schedule 7 days a week to offset the delays on the subway system. It also would not hurt to reexamine the bus routes themselves; they don't exactl integrate with Metro that well.

Posted by: bkp | January 5, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

It would seem that if they're single-tracking for 4 hours during the day, they ought to be able to do that same work between midnight and 5:00 am when the system is closed.

It would certainly seem that they could do routine elevator maintenance during those hours, also, instead of taking the elevators out of service during operating hours. To most disabled folks (and a lot of elderly) an out-of-service elevator is MORE than an inconvenience.

Posted by: cb | January 5, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the poster about doing routine elevator/escalator maintenance during off-peak or closed times. There is also a lot of routine maintenance that should go on when Metro is closed. The floor-washing machines are often used during rush hour. That leaves a slippery floor when people are rushing through the station. Also work like installing ads and changing light bulbs. I've complained to Metro several times about this but they insist work has to be done at these times. Once I saw a guy on a high ladder, working alone, changing a ceiling light at the Huntington station platform. During evening rush hour. Large crowds were passing around him. If someone had bumped into the ladder he could easily have been dumped onto the tracks. And Metro wonders why it has safety issues!

Posted by: Alexandria user | January 5, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I strongly agree with what Mikey has to say about mass transportation. It will be an inconvenience to some during these times of track work. However, Metro is doing the best they can to minimize the number of people that are inconvenience by it. The Cheverly station closing probably does the most damage shuting down the rest of the New Carrollton end of the Orange line, but it is only one weekend. If Metro's shuttle service doesn't work, there are other solutions including ZipCar or simply asking a friend. Most of the track work only involves a train being single-tracked through one station, and with the work already being performed druing off-peak hours, the time gap between running trains should be large enough to minimize the delays of single-tracking.

Posted by: RCP | January 5, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Metro became too much of a hassle for my local jaunts with all the delays and misaligned bus services. So, I returned to my car last May and haven't looked back. This goes against every fiber of my tree hugging being, but my time is valuable. Life is short, and I prefer not to waste it idling because of an inefficient and bureaucratically bloated organization such as Metro. *sobs* Metro, fix your house up so I can return.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 5, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

If scheduled disruptions were the main problem, I could deal with it. Unfortunately, it is the mechanical breakdowns that are becoming a daily occurrence that are even more disturbing. With so many people using the system, even a short delay during rush hour quickly becomes a commuting disaster. That's what happended due to a broken switch during last night's rush hour on the Orange-Blue line. And, again this morning on the same lines. Can't wait for tonight's adventures!!

Posted by: jd | January 5, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

This morning, I waited for a bus for 18 minutes and finally gave up. Montgomery County has a nice electronic sign at bus stops announcing the next bus arrival times. However, the general priority in America is to make technology available for private purchase and enjoyment, not as a service for citizens at large. I think that's why England had electronic signs announcing subway arrivals as early as 1995, and NYC still does not.

Posted by: bogfrog | January 5, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The other day I had to run an errand in the morning so I came into work late. I got to Courthouse Station and saw there would be a 13 minute wait for the next train. My reaction was "[Expletive]!" as opposed to "Gee, I wouldn't mind waiting so long if they would drop the fare a [expletive] dime, as proposed."

Posted by: Paul | January 5, 2007 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Also agree with the poster named Mikey. I think what irritates me the most is that Metro is constant clamoring for extra funds, but I've yet to see ANY improvement in the past 8+ years, except the electronic signs (not all of which work) and the opening of a couple stations. I think there would be a lot less complaining if people felt like they were getting value in the fares we pay. Metro is a good system but still leaves a lot to be desired.

Posted by: dallenva | January 5, 2007 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Gee, we in Atlanta think we have an inefficient system, and we are always contrasting our system with yours. I guess the grass isn't always greener on the other side. The single tracking here is done from 1:00A.M. to 5:00 A.M. (when the system is closed)and on weekends. We do have a single flat rate fare no matter the travel distance and time of travel. That's a good thing.

Posted by: Corey | January 5, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

What should have been a 20 minute trip turned into a metro ride that would have lasted about an hour if I didn't leave to take a cab last night! Blue and orange line trains shared a track. The notices said to expect "minor delays." Yeah right! I asked the attendant at Rosslyn if a train to Franconia-Springfield was coming soon, or otherwise I would leave, and he said that it was the next one. Nope, about 3 New Carollton trains, then 2 Largo trains, then more New Carollton. Then I gave up! Maintenance is fine, but let commuters know what to expect so that they can plan accordingly!

Posted by: IR | January 5, 2007 4:19 PM | Report abuse

And we get to pay extra for the delays too. I don't care that it's better than other systems in the country; it's not good enough. When most of the passengers contemplate the possibility of walking 30 miles to work every day rather than ride the train, you have to ask yourself whether the improvement over other systems is significant.

Posted by: METROSUCKS | January 5, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse

A previous poster wrote, "Hey, I have an idea, cut the station manager's salaries in half, hire competent station managers and you save yourself millions. Paying attention Metro???"

I don't know how much Metro station managers make, but let's say $50,000 for argument's sake. You want to cut that salary in half AND hire competent people. Who is going to take the job for $25,000. Would you??? You get what you pay for. Now perhaps some of those station managers should not have those jobs, but I doubt your plan would result in more competent station managers by cutting their salaries in half.

I agree with other posters that Metro commuters do a lot of whining and complaining. Compared to most U.S. cities, we have a great subway system. No, we are not New York. But New York's subway has its issues too as does every other mass transit system.

Comparing the DC Metro to European and Asian subway systems isn't comparing apples to apples. Those systems are funded differently and more resources are devoted to mass transit in other countries. Don't blame Metro for that here -- blame your elected officials!

Posted by: Devil's advocate | January 5, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I live where I do now because of Metro. Many point out the that Metro often clamors for funds, but keep in mind that it is one of the most chronically underfunded transporation systems in the US, if not the industrialized world. A third track would have been nice, but we are lucky to have what we got--a world-class system. At the time the NYC system was built, there wasn't car culture to compete with. Yes, there have been delays, but considering the traffic alternative, even on weekends (I live in Bethesda), it could be much worse...

Posted by: karolus | January 5, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Hello, 2007 folks. Just a little note from your future.

Metro sure has changed.

All of the old big slug Metro trains got replaced with 2-seater personal rapid transportation vehicles, using offline stations, too.

Offline stations allow traveling directly to one's destination, without stops or having to switch trains, drastically decreasing commute times. That has been very enjoyable.

And, while it was kind of a change to no longer wait for and ride a big train with a bunch of strangers, we adapted pretty quickly.

These offline stations also allow immediately boarding a waiting vehicle instead of the old way of having to wait for the next big train to arrive. Again, quite a joy.

Oh, and the vehicles drive themselves, too. We just get in with our RFID fare card, enter which station we want to go to, and away we go (at 100 mph I might add). I still laugh thinking how long it used to take to commute from the suburbs.

I should add that there are special purpose vehicles, too, for special needs riders, and larger 6-seater vehicles, for larger families, both immediately summonable via the Web.

Because of the vehicles' smaller size and ability to self-navigate, we're now fiscally capable of maintaining Metro service around the clock. All those second and third shift workers finally got a system that they could reliably use.

Also because of the vehicles' smaller size, Metro now travels above ground on a maglev rail, which makes it quite quiet and fast. Whoosh. I don't miss those screeching wheels on the old Metro trains.

The stations are now just little elevated platforms put about a half mile apart along existing streets. Stations are now walking distance from pretty much every neighborhood in a 20-mile radius from the city.

It was amazing how much less, I think like 90% less, it cost to expand Metro as a personal rapid transit system instead of the old big train system. I guess that's part of what made it possible and a lot quicker to expand than that old system.

A lot of people even use the inter-city connectors instead of flights for cities as far as 600 miles away, finding it just as fast if not faster.

Because there are more stations and less distance between them and because the rails are elevated, we turned all the old above-ground Metro stations, their interconnecting tracks, and their huge parking lots into a series of interconnected parks.

Even though some people living along the old tracks complained about their home values going up considerably now that their homes are quieter and back to greenspace, the community as a whole has enjoyed it.

As all functions at local stations became automated, staffing at the old Metro stations all got shifted to the four consolidated regional facilities, avoiding any job losses, but allowing staff reductions solely through attrition.

And a lot more people now ride the Metro since it is faster, less expensive, and more convenient than cars. As a result, we have cleaner air and have been able to remove two lanes from the Beltway, converting them back into a beautiful and well-vegetated median. More lane removals are planned.

We really did need to cut the greenhouse gas emissions of cars and, thankfully, Metro's improvements were what allowed that to happen fast enough. I can't imagine the mess we'd be in now if that hadn't happened.

The series of Metro fare reductions were nice, too.

Your wise decisions back then are well appreciated now.

Posted by: 21st century commuter | January 7, 2007 7:30 PM | Report abuse

It was noted on another blog that station manager salaries range in the upper five figures to lower six figures. I think cutting them in half or even down to the number listed above is fine for the little work they actually seem to do. I'd love to get $25,000/yr to watch TV. Could run a side business at the same time and actually look like I'm doing official Metro work.

Posted by: Salaries | January 8, 2007 9:13 AM | Report abuse

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