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Metro GM Apologizes For Delays

Metro issued an apology to its riders today for yesterday afternoon's extensive delays on the Blue and Orange lines downtown. (Metro GM John Catoe Jr. talked about it during an online chat at noon today on Metro's Web site.)

Here's part of what he said: "Let me say that I am sorry that so many of you were inconvenienced last night traveling on the Blue and Orange Lines. I have received comments from so many of you, and when you're delayed on Metro, I understand how you feel. I travel on Metrorail myself, and I understand that you want to know why. Although, I can't give you back the time spent on your commute last night, I would like to explain to you what happened.

"At 5:26 last night, the brakes of a Blue Line train locked as it was traveling between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn. There was an Orange Line train behind it and we decided to use that train to push the stalled Blue Line train to Rosslyn. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as easy as all that. We had to send a rail car mechanic from Rosslyn on foot to link the two trains together."

"By 6:13, the trains had arrived at Rosslyn, and then we had to work on the Blue Line train in Rosslyn station. This meant that trains had to share one track between Foggy Bottom and Clarendon on the Orange Line, as well as between Foggy Bottom and Arlington Cemetery on the Blue Line. You can think of this as virtually cutting our ability to move people during rush hour in half. To make matters worse, at that time, a rail switch had a mechanical problem and had to be repaired. We also discovered that the e-alert system failed, which meant that people who subscribe weren't getting notification."

It was hot, but rather than stay in the stations, many people chose to go back outside, and some walked.
Here's what one commenter on this blog said about it:

"I walked from downtown to Arlington as well in the 90+ degree heat due to the Orange/Blue debacle and the seeming disappearance of the 38B. Pathetic."

Metro acknowledged in a statement that platforms became crowded, trains backed up and when trains were
available, they were quickly filled.

Things kept getting worse. While Metro was dealing with the busted train, the transit authority said in the statement, the remaining Blue and Orange Line trains took turns sharing one track between Foggy Bottom and Clarendon on the Orange Line and Foggy Bottom and Arlington Cemetery on the Blue Line.

Then a rail switch, which allows trains to move between tracks, developed a problem that required repair.

While all this was happening, Metro's e-alert system also failed. "Mero officials made continuous rail system announcements about the Blue and Orange line delays," the transit authority statement said. (I was riding the Green Line at the time, and if that's what they were announcing, I sure couldn't make it out.)

I just got an e-mail about this from a frustrated commuter, and here's part of what she said:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Just when you think Metro can't screw things up any worse than the last time there was a breakdown during evening rush, commuters are proven wrong. I got on at Archives, Yellow Line at approximately 5:35 pm,
transferred to Blue/Orange at l'Enfant.

Unbeknownst to me (and thousands of others since there was no e-mail alert), there was a train breakdown somewhere between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn. I have no idea when the train broke down, because according to the Metro Web site for incidents on August 2, there was no train breakdown. I managed to catch a Yellow Line to Pentagon, and then transfer to a Blue Line to get to Rosslyn.

I finally heard an announcement that there was a train breakdown, but the disabled train had been cleared. A Blue Line train pulled into the station, and I got on. (The air conditioning was broken.) The train pulled into Arlington Cemetery, and sat for approximately ten minutes. And then with no explanation, the train was
taken out of service. Another five minutes goes by, and another train pulls in. Everyone packs on, and then boom, the train was taken out of service. Another five minutes goes by, and a THIRD train pulls in to
Arlington Cemetery.

Everyone gets on again, and after five minutes, the train doors finally close, and we get to Rosslyn. And when I get off, there are three EMTs from Arlington Fire Department, with a stretcher. Once again, no explanation from Metro as to what was going on. The lower platform at Rosslyn was JAMMED. There were people on the upper
platform wanting to go down to the lower platform, but there was no room.

Beth Harrison
Arlington


"We have pulled together a team representing several operational offices departments to focus on how to improve our response in the future," said Gerald Francis, Metro's deputy GM and chief operating officer.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 3, 2007; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Comments

What are they going to do for all the people who were inconvenienced? I eventually made it home, but there were people who had a lot longer wait than I did. Are fares going to be refunded?

Posted by: Emily | August 3, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

WMATA's response to this incident is just so typical. "Sorry 'bout that and we'll think about how to do better." That would be all well and good if this didn't happen time and time again.

EVERY time there's a major system meltdown, they're caught completely unprepared. What's the point of having discussions if nothing ever changes?

In my memory, this is something like the 5th time that the e-Alert system has failed completely when there was a major problem. And every time we're told "oops." You might get "oops" the first or second time, but, by now, whomever is responsible MUST get shown the door.

You're running the second busiest subway system in the country. You can't just apologize and move on; you actually have to FIX what is broken.

Is John Catoe capable?

Posted by: nashpaul | August 3, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I entered the Rosslyn station only to discover the masses of humanity gathered on the platform to the sound of a somewhat panicky Metro employee slurring something about a "MAJOR DELAY!!!" over the loud speaker. Screw this, right? So I exit to the elevator, willing to eat the $1.70 that won't be returned to me. Well, it turns out that the ELEVATOR IS BROKEN and no one posted a sign. Great! So I reenter the station, walk up that damn flight of escalator stairs, and pay another $1.70 to exit on the street. And then I walked to Georgetown (not a single bus passed me by during my walk - OH, except for the Georgetown University shuttle, of course!).

What an embarrassment!

Posted by: Mike | August 3, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

The explanation is wrong - trains were single tracked all the way to Farragut West. I was finally able to catch a blue train towards Largo (on the springfield side of the station), switch to the yellow line at l'enfant plaza , and finally get back on a blue train at King street. It took almost two hours to get home and I think I was one of the lucky ones. My neighbor was ON the broken train - his commute took 3.5 hours.

Posted by: Farragut West | August 3, 2007 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I was on the Blue Line train that malfunctioned between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn last night. I understand that trains break down. What I found unfathomable was that annoucements from the train operator were not clear and to compound that problem, the speakers in the car I was in was shoddy at best. The biggest problem with Metro continues to be communicating to its customers -- especially during an emergency.

Posted by: BlueLine | August 3, 2007 2:19 PM | Report abuse

"Sorry for the delays". One thing that Metro needs to realize is that the delays not only slow people down who take the metro, but that a significant delay like this means they miss the last bus home. This is one reason why good communication is essential for riders. And that bus might not be run by the metro, but by some Virginia or Maryland county. Obviously Metro can only control what metro runs, but it would do them good to realize the trickle-down effect this can have on people's commute.

I was lucky in that I made it on my last bus home, which was pretty full for that time of day.

It took me watching through 7 stops to finally be able to read enough of the text on the information screens to find out what was happening, and, the most important: which stations were affected. The train and platform speakers are pretty much either not working or incomprehensible 70% of the time.

Posted by: DM | August 3, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Every time there is a major delay representatives from Metro "apologize for any inconvenience." If Metro was truly sorry, they would refund our money, give everyone a free future fare, and ACTUALLY recognize that a 20 minute commute taking 3 hours IS NOT a mere inconvenience, since recent experience demonstrates that these major delays are not going to stop, despite what they say.

Posted by: fed up | August 3, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the broken elevator at Rosslyn- I trudged up the elevator and informed one of the Metro employees that the elevator was broken and there was no sign. She said she wasn't going down there to post something because everyone was going to bother her. I was flabbergasted.

Posted by: Mike | August 3, 2007 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I entered the Farragut West station on the 18th street side around 6:25 and encountered the madness on the mezzaniene. Fortunately, you don't pay until passing through that area so I could sipmly turn around and leave. Man, would I be PISSED to have to pay $1.35 just to exit as those who entered at Rosslyn had to do.

The manager responsible for the alerts should be FIRED, period. Anything short of that is BS.

I have long ago learned to not talk to station managers. I have yet to meet even one who appeared to give a damn about riders. Courteous managers are the EXCEPTION rather than the rule, Mr. Catoe! Try this out some day: disguise yourself with a baseball cap and dark glasses, go into a station and ask the manager for directions or assistance. 20 bucks says they will basically tell you to F-off.

Posted by: Crazy | August 3, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Sadly we are at Metro's mercy. We can't drive because the roads are jammed and the stupid governments don't do anything other thanw aste our money doing studies on why we shouldn't build more roads. We can't move closer because housing is too expensive and I mean even an efficiency condo or apartment. We can't get jobs close to where we live because they don't exist, at least anything that pays over minimum wage. So, I continue to pay around $4,000 annually to get crappy treatment and service. Lucky me.

Posted by: Nothing we can do | August 3, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Why doesn't Metro CLOSE the fare gates when there are major delays? Will they wait until the platforms get so crowded, that someone will get pushed by the crowds into the path of a train? And of course the trains are delayed even further when the entire contingent on the platform all tries to get on one train. (And you can't blame them...who knows when the next train will arrive?!)

I was delayed at least 30 minutes, about 2 weeks ago on the Orange line. Never got an e-mail, at the time or later. Even though I am disabled, I had to stand on the platform the whole time. If I had known about the delays, I would have gotten on the Blue line and caught the 5A bus in Rosslyn, and been home MUCH faster!

I'm looking for a new job that does not require a Metro commute, because it's literally too painful for a disabled person to use this system!

Posted by: Susan K | August 3, 2007 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Yes, most of this is Metro's fault. However, problems described in Beth Harrison's account could be avoided if passengers realize when a train is too crowded to get on and keep their personal belongings and body parts out of the train doors!

Posted by: Drea | August 3, 2007 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Surly transit workers aren't unique to DC. Try NYC or Chicago. It is a product of a union workforce.

Posted by: Commuter | August 3, 2007 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Always the same. It's not a Union issue. It's a management issue. We don't need some right-wing Republican's view. We need better management and fewer excuses. And yes, try being just another commuter and see how you are treated.

Posted by: Metroing for Twenty | August 3, 2007 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Thank frickin' God I had to work late last night! Even thought it ended up not affecting me, I'm pissed about not getting a notification about the delays. This situation seems to have merited *REAL* alerts; so often I get announcements at work about what turns out to be minor farts in the metro system; you (Metro) so need to improve this. Whenever I hear about a problem, I cannot tell whether it's really a 15-minute delay or a "15-minute delay" (read: find a kindly co-worker to drive you home)!

Posted by: Matt, the Ballston commuter | August 3, 2007 8:45 PM | Report abuse

why didnt we get our fares for free like the Green line did recently? Oh, we aren't the right type of people to get refunds.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 3, 2007 10:26 PM | Report abuse

I was heading into the city for dinner on Thursday and checked WMATA's web site to see the scheduled train times from Courthouse to Farragut West at about 5:50pm. There was no mention of the delay on the web site.

We arrived/entered the station around 6:15 and there was no mention of any kind of delay until I made it to the platform.

The messages were unclear at best. I noticed they did do a good job of saying where the various trains heading in both directions for both the Orange and Blue lines were, but there was no telling WHEN that close train was going to arrive. When I realized they had resorted to single-tracking, I bailed and took a cab.

Between my friend and me, that was $2.70 of unrefunded fares. I have spoken with plenty of other people that made the same decision and abandoned their fare. Why should the system get "rewarded" with these fares for their error? When there is a delay, the customers need to know BEFORE they enter the station so they can make a better decision. It's infuriating.

Posted by: Courthouse Metro | August 4, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

All of you self rightous individuals just Whin! Whin! Whin! about METRO poor service and management. However, you don't want fare increases to upgrade trains, maintain wayside track equipment, fix vandalism, or METRO employees to work overtime. Remember, Metro don't have a dedicated source of funding, they have to beg each jurisdiction for scraps each year for money. Metro is over 30 years old with equipment based on 1950's technology. Could you managed your household if you didn't know how much money you were going to I have? I have worked for the federal government and been in the military, and they are no better than METRO. Atleast all fo METRO flaws are published daily in the area newspapers, were the government fraud, waste, abuse and incompetence goes unnoticed/unchecked. How about the overpaid government workers that get paid 8 hours a day for 2 hour/day job? How about the wasteful spending that is done near the end of the fiscal year? How about unopen boxes of software, computers, good furniture, etc.. that are thrown away/broken up because of a new material requisition. We all no who is the Biggest offender of waste, has the least management accountability, and has the poorest work ethics, the Federal Governement. If you are part of that system you are part of the problem. So all i'm saying get off METRO's back. If you live in a glass house, don't throw stones.

Posted by: Jeffrey | August 4, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

There is a funny angle to this drama enacted by the Metro GM: he acts as if THAT was the only issue in recent times. Anyone traveling in metro this summer will agree that the number of breakdowns and major delays are more numerous than any other period of 2-3 months in recent memory. Yet this gentleman is trying to behave as if this is one black spot on their otherwise great performance. You may have noticed that most of the metrorail cars nowadays are far more warm than last summers, leaving passengers struggling for fresh air every time the doors open at a hot metro station! Announcement systems are dysfunctional as they choose to display only elevator outages instead of train schedule. The list is endless. To top it, MetroBuses keep running with open windows and rattling seats. So much for 'understanding' us!

Posted by: Subrato | August 4, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Just a slightest inconvenience and people are already screaming "nightmare". I am amazed how some people are so spoiled in this country. If only you have lived in a poor or developing country, you will learn how lucky you are. These unintentional thing that happened in metro that you call "nightmare", is just an everyday situation in my country.

Posted by: Patient Girl | August 6, 2007 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Maybe you just notice the problems because you are more aware of them? Imagine if you didn't read The Post or listen to the news, would you still be aware of all the problems or would you just accept a delay because it was just a delay?

You choose where you work and live, and how you commute. Your choices are yours and yours alone. Accept the consequences of your decisions because griping about things you can't control (delays due to heat or breakdowns) won't change the system.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Do you need to make a living? Are you often stuck on sweltering Metro cars in the dead of summer heat because of that living? Are you often confused by the incoherent messages and emails Metro staff provide regarding the endless delays? If so, please use this handy Metrospeak Primer:

"Slight delay" == "Massive delay"

"Due to a problem that has already been resolved" == "Anybody know where it is?"

"Trains are moving" == "Trains are not moving"

"Will be servicing your platform shortly" == "Sometime in the next 6 hours"

"We regret any inconvenience" == "Better vote for our yearly fare and tax increase or these 'accidents' will keep happening"

"Doors are closing, please stand clear" == "Doors are closing, train will lurch forward 10 feet and then stop and re-open doors, wait for 20 minutes, then go out of service"

"Train driver XXX, please contact Central" == "Your train is either stuck or hurtling towards Union Station at 75 mph. In either case, please wake up as naptime is over."

"Keeping Metro Rail safe is up to all of us" == "Keeping Metro Rail safe is up to you, the commuter, as we are too busy spending all the 30-cent nonrefundable remainders on all your fare cards on fabulous prizes"


Posted by: James | August 6, 2007 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Those who think it isn't a union issue are deluded. Non union CUSTOMER SERVICE workers could never get away with the attitude of these metro managers.

Posted by: Unions Are Evil | August 7, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Folks - we need to do something. Does John Catoe get a bonus incentative for cutting costs? No air in the metro stations - those vents are there for a reason on the platform, but fans are turned off. LONG waits for 4 car trains, cutting out late night service.

We deserve better. We already pay for the bloated pension fund - do we have to pay for Catoe's bonus as well?

Please call/email metro -- and more importantly - call/email you representatives - this is wrong.

Posted by: Lisa | August 7, 2007 7:40 PM | Report abuse

For anyone who didn't realize it - yes - your fare pays for the bloated pension fund.

The fund is based the employees receiving overtime to increase their salary to $150,000- and retire on that dollar figure. In a nutshell - its FRAUD.

Your fare pays for this. And for Catoe's salary and incentatives - I met him. Totally false individual, tried to "glad-hand" me like I would be thrilled he told "how glad he was to hear about the problems.

He's happier in front of the media saying how great the pension fund is.

Sure is. We're paying for it through BAD service.

Posted by: Lisa | August 7, 2007 7:49 PM | Report abuse

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