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Security Measure Changes Commute Pattern

Are any of you commuters who use Union Station experiencing what bothers this traveler?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Just when you think the congested pedestrian traffic at Union Station couldn't get any worse, Amtrak places a barrier that forces MARC passengers through Gate A (instead of detouring to the lesser used Gate G). This setup also prevents VRE commuters from getting to/from Metro without passing through Union Station (via McDonalds, the luggage carousels, and the ever-crowded and overflowing Starbucks) .

This morning especially highlighted the problems with this setup as three MARC trains were discharging passengers nearly simultaneously at the same time a large group of northbound commuters were also trying to use
Gate A to get to their train. It was pedestrian gridlock!

MARC notices stated that this new setup was for security reasons. I fail to see how this setup improves security at all, unless Amtrak is subscribing to the 'people only feel secure if they are inconvenienced' philosophy. I'd like to see some detailed explanation for these changes, rather than the generic responses we've already received.

Bill Ballantyne

This change was initiated by Amtrak, for security reasons. This is how MARC explained it to passengers:

Amtrak Police are changing foot traffic patterns at Washington Union Station. These changes will go into place in phases and may have an effect on the routes you normally take to and from your MARC train.
On April 16th, a barricade will be erected between tracks 16 and 17 restricting the flow of foot traffic on the upper level in the track area. Once this barricade is in place, trains arriving on tracks 17-20 will only be able to exit to the station via Gate G. Trains arriving on tracks 7-16 will only be able to exit to the station via Gate A. Trains departing from tracks 17-20 will continue to board through Gate A.
For those few trains that arrive on the lower level, access to the station will be via Gate G, which will become one-way from the lower level concourse into the station. The doors that connect the lower level concourse and the upper level train area will no longer allow entry to the upper level train area. Passengers from VRE will not be able to traverse the track area while going to Metro.
The afternoon Penn Line train that departs from the lower level will no longer board at Gate A, but will instead board through Gate L (Gate G will not allow entry to lower level concourse.) near McDonald's. Because of limitations to the gate board signs, this train will not appear on the Gate A board where you usually find MARC trains. Please refer to the Amtrak departure monitors to verify what gate and track your train will board from.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 19, 2007; 10:06 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Doesn't sound like much of an explanation of any reasons to me. Sounds more like the current government attitude of "You do whatever we say because we told you to do it. It's for 'security' and if you doubt us you are a terrorist."

To hell with them. All the more reason to drive.

Posted by: Rich | April 19, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

(I'm the author of the question in the blog post)

This 'explanation' is what all MARC subscribers received in their email andi the latest newsletter. It only *describes* the changes - it gives no explanation as to why these changes were needed. Of course, that would probably reveal high-level Amtrak security secrets that shouldn't be revealed.

With the hoards of people moving through this station every weekday, I still fail to see how this huge inconvenience improves security even in a minuscule way.

Posted by: Bill (from Baltimore) | April 19, 2007 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Bill - they've offered no explanation as to why this was necessary. Now instead of coming across the platform to access the VRE trains on the far tracks (23-26), we have to join the hordes of commuters, Amtrak riders and tourist/school groups in the narrow corridor that runs along each of the gates. With the addition of the school groups visiting and being dropped off at Union Station to eat their dinner, there was barely room to walk last night. I'm not begrudging the tourist groups, I just wish the "train police" wouldn't make it so difficult for the commuters.

We have tickets to our trains which are checked by the conductors so why is this necessary?

Posted by: VRE rider | April 19, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Indeed - the VRE commuters are the real losers in this situation.

Posted by: Bill | April 19, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Sounds to me like Union Station is thinking that if they get EVERYONE to cram into the retail area, that more people will buy more stuff and they can raise the rents on the spaces. Also, think about it, if you miss a train, you'll be able to suffer through the line at Starbucks to get something to eat or drink then barely make your next train.

Posted by: MORE MONEY | April 19, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't get the email updates, but: how much is MARC paying for the glossy newsletters (printed "for our passengers") when I'd be a lot happier with a mimeograph and on-time, non-SRO service?

Posted by: MARCer | April 19, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Hmm seems pretty clear to me that Amtrak simply does not want people to roam the platforms and would rather contain them inside, away from the trains. Think about it this way: Horde of people get off train and walk toward metro, one person blending into horde quietly sneaks off from horde to a track on the way to metro, person then plants a bomb on/under train.

I know, said person could buy a ticket, get on the train and do the same thing, but that discussion of increased security for our train stations vs. inconvience should be saved for a later date.

Seems like a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. People will complain because they are being inconvienced, but as soon as some horrible incident occurs, there is an uproar of why there wasn't better security. Sorry's just the world we live in nowadays.

Posted by: Laura | April 20, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I do think though that the walkway area between the stores and the waiting/seating area is much too narrow. Besides taking away waiting area, what else can be done?

Posted by: Laura | April 20, 2007 12:34 PM | Report abuse

For the record, if traveling on MARC, you don't even need to buy a ticket to get to the platforms because you can still buy tix on-board (for $3 additional fee - terrorists take note!)

Let's face it if they wanted to improve security, it should be more like the airports (and even a lot of that is security theater), but there's no way to do that and still move the hoards of commuters thru the station quickly and efficiently.

IMHO the only way these new patterns might improve security is if only Amtrak trains used the blocked off tracks. But since that's not the case, who knows why they did this.

Posted by: Zizzy | April 23, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

The new set-up is worthless - it doesn't improve security at all. All it does is inconvenience the passengers. If someone (a terrorist) wants to do something, this will not stop them.

Posted by: RL | April 24, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

For Metro Bus drivers via the Gaithersburg area, while the weather is nice, there will be kids skipping school taking the bus to go to the Mall. For example, there's a ride on bus in front of the Quince Orchard High School of North Potomac, kids have been skipping school to take the bus over to the Lake Forest Mall. For security reasons, we should recommend that the bus drivers verify whether they are students; if so, the driver should deny them ridership. Why? By allowing them to ride on the bus, this would be a violation of their educational principals. Please be advised about this issue, and find a plan to help these students out of skipping class. Thank you.

Posted by: Unanimous | April 24, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

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