Weekend Frustrations on Red Line
Guys like Ben Ross, the president of the Action Committee for Transit, are among Metro's best friends. They are true believers in transit. So when Ross and his Montgomery County group have a complaint about transit, you notice.
Ross is among the many people angry about the delays and crowding on the Red Line this weekend, the first of four weekends for a major track repair project at the Van Ness Station. He made public he sent to Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.
Dear Mr. Catoe:
Trains ran on 30 minute headways Saturday night on the Red Line due to single tracking between Friendship Heights and Dupont Circle. I was on an inbound train last night that was offloaded at Friendship Heights and told to wait for the next train coming in 15 minutes. This is an unacceptable level of service at a busy time for Metro; boardings at Bethesda on Saturday nights are half of what they are in the weekday morning rush hour.
Metro could easily have provided 15 minute headways. The single tracking was caused by switch maintenance at Van Ness. Trains could have single tracked on the blocked track from Friendship Heights to Tenleytown and from Dupont Circle to Cleveland Park and returned on the same track to the switches within 15 minutes. A shuttle on the open track between Tenleytown and Cleveland Park could have met the turned-back trains and made the round trip comfortably within 15 minutes.
It seems that inflexible train control may degrade service in other situations as well. On the New York subway, crowded trains frequently skip stops when another train is directly behind them. Our members have seen this on Metro only rarely in incident recovery situations and almost never during times of simple rush-hour crowding. Skipping stops could significantly alleviate loading delays caused by train overcrowding and prevent following trains from being delayed behind the first crowded train.
It is possible that Metro's automated control system limits the flexibility of train control. If that is the case, Metro should evaluate the merits of more frequent use of operator control during track maintenance, incident recovery, and other times.
At a time when Metro is stressed by increasing ridership, insufficient financial support from Maryland, Virginia, and D.C., and aging infrastructure, everything should be done to provide the best service possible within these limitations.
Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said this morning that the transit authority will review how things went this weekend and see if there are any changes it could make to improve service. The work on the track switches is scheduled to continue from 9 p.m. Fridays through midnight Sundays on each of the next three weekends.
I can't tell whether Ross's proposals would have improved service in this particular situation. He says he checked the shuttle idea with some other members of ACT who are rail experts and they said it was feasible. And Metro does sometimes have its trains skip stops to even out the flow of trains or ease crowding in stations.
It's beyond doubt that riders are frustrated with weekend train service. There's hardly ever a weekend without significant delays because of track maintenance or rail car testing. All the lines are affected. But this winter, things have been especially tough for Red Line riders, with another switch replacement project at Medical Center and a bridge rehab at Metro Center. At this point, they're feeling abused.
The switch fix is a big project, Taubenkibel said, not the sort of thing that can be done in one weekend, or in a series of overnight efforts after the rail lines have been shut down. Actually, similar projects have gotten done faster, but they were on above ground tracks. The narrow confines of the Red Line tunnel limit what the workers can do as they rebuild the switches that allow trains to move from one track to another.
They did one switch on the Glenmont-bound tracks this weekend and will do the other next weekend. For the following two weekends, they'll move over to the Shady Grove-bound side. Meanwhile, trains traveling in both directions will be taking turns on the adjacent track.
Metro did put out the word that riders should add 30 minutes to their regular travel times because of this. And Taubenkibel said that eight car trains, which don't normally operate on weekends, ran through the single tracking area to help with the crowding. Service was not reduced during the evening hours along this busy corridor, he said.
I'll follow up with you later this week about the prospects for next weekend. You can see how many people wanted to talk about this by looking over my online discussion with readers earlier today.
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