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Bad Experience at Metro Station

For the second time this month, I've gotten complaints about how Metro communicated with customers during the evacuation of a station. I wrote about one in Sunday's Dr. Gridlock. Now, a letter writer tells me about the Monday afternoon incident at Bethesda. I'll probably respond to this letter in an upcoming newspaper column, but would like to share it with you first and hear from anyone who also experienced this situation.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was on my way home from Metro Center on the Red Line Monday. We arrived at Bethesda at about 4:10 pm, people got off and on and then we sat for a few minutes. Out of the blue we were told that the train was going out of service and we must exit the train but another train was right behind this one. We stood on the platform for less than a minute when an announcement was made that was impossible to hear.

Why can't they adjust their system louder so passengers on the platform can actually hear the announcements over the noise of a standing or moving train, not to mention the chatter of confused and annoyed passengers? It sounded like they said that we had to leave the station. Then a Metro employee came down to the platform and told us all to exit the station. No explanation, just EXIT THE STATION NOW!

People asked questions such as why and are there shuttle buses available, etc. but he just ignored them. There was a mentally challenged man on my car who was very upset with this change in his routine and he was wailing and asking what was happening and how was he going to get where he was going. Fortunately other passengers close by were there to assist him, although none of us had a clue as to what was happening.

I had no clue as to how to get home and fortunately I was able to reach someone to come and pick me up and take me to an appointment. Of course this took some time and about an hour later driving on Rockville Pike we saw the train pulling into Grosvenor so it obviously went through Bethesda Station. What is the deal with Metro? They are very unpleasant in this type of situation and offer no explanations or assistance to anyone. This isn't an isolated incident, I have been here before, many times. There is no excuse for this behavior or for not keeping passengers informed of the situation.

Leslie Wilkoff
North Bethesda

As far as Metro was concerned, the incident lasted 11 minutes and the station was reopened. A passenger in the last car of the six car train reported an unattended box with a wire hanging out. The train operator reported this to the operations control center. So Wilkoff''s train stopped in Bethesda and the other trains in both directions were held up. The operator and the station manager told customers to evacuate both the train and the station.

They didn't know anything else except that their next mission was to find whatever was in the sixth car. The operator went through the car and found no suspicious box. He did see that the red box on the wall in the middle of the car that would allow passengers to open the door in an emergency was ajar and a wire was hanging out.
The operator reported this to the operations control center, which ordered the train out of service as a precaution so it could be checked. Meanwhile, the station was reopened.

It's not the Metro response to the suspicious box that bothers me. Actually, that sounds fine. I've heard plenty of times from readers who were annoyed at what they thought was a sluggish response by transit workers to their reports about suspicious packages.

What bothers me is that Metro doesn't seemed to have developed a plan for what to do next with all those customers it tells to get out of the station. These incidents are pretty rare, fortunately, but they've happened often enough since 9/11 so that there ought to be a passenger communication plan in place for those first 10 minutes or so after an evacuation is ordered. Were these Bethesda passengers supposed to hit Wisconsin Avenue and start running? Were they supposed to get to street level and await further instructions?

They didn't know. All they knew was, they paid Metro for a ride home and they didn't get it. By now, Metro should have figured out a way to follow up with them.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 26, 2007; 6:10 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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