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Weekend-Long Delays on Metro

Metrorail riders are used to service delays caused by weekend repair and testing projects, but this one more extensive. It's phase two -- the final phase -- of a bridge rehab job at Metro Center, and it's going to disrupt service on three lines for the entire President's Day weekend.

The problem is that the Red Line tracks are sagging where they cross over the Blue and Orange Line tracks. There's a bridge at that point that needs to have its bearing pads replaced to eliminate the sag. You'll see the work in progress if you ride the Blue and Orange Lines this weekend, but it's probably not worth it. You'd be better off finding a way around Metro Center, even though the station will be open.

The bridge is still safe, Metro says. (You can walk across the sagging part without realizing it. I had to stare down at the platforms from one of the entrance plazas before spotting the sag.) The transit authority has been planning this project for a year, and decided to do it on the first two holiday weekends of the year, because ridership would be relatively low and the three-day weekends would allow enough time for the job. (They can't do it just working nights. They'd barely get their equipment set up when they'd have to start taking it down again.)

During the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, workers replaced the bearing pads under the Red Line track on the north side, the Shady Grove-bound side. This weekend, they'll be working under the south, or Glenmont-bound track. The effect on riders is the same: From 10 o'clock Friday night through midnight Monday, trains on the Red, Orange and Blue lines will be single tracking around the work zone.

Add at least a half hour to your normal travel times on these lines, Metro says.

This weekend is the Disney on Ice show at Verizon Center, which is right above the Gallery Place Station at 7th and F streets NW. But Gallery Place will be in the Red Line's single-tracking zone (as will Farragut North, on the west side of Metro Center). So Gallery Place's Red Line platform is likely to be crowded before and after the shows.

How to work around it:
-- If you'd normally ride the Blue Line from Northern Virginia and transfer to the Red at Metro Center, you'd be better off transfering to the Yellow Line at Pentagon and riding that to Gallery Place.
-- If you'd normally ride the Blue or Orange lines from Prince George's and transfer to the Red at Metro Center, you'd be better off transfering at L'Enfant Plaza to the Green or Yellow and riding to Gallery Place.
-- If you'd normally ride the Red Line to Gallery Place from the Glenmont side, you'd be better off transfering to the Green or Yellow lines at Fort Totten and riding to Gallery Place.
-- Or consider skipping the ride to Gallery Place and instead get off your train at Metro Center or Judiciary Square. The downtown stations are clustered tightly in that area and it's just a couple of blocks to or from Verizon Center to the other stations.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 15, 2008; 8:28 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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When I first moved to Washington over 20 years ago, I did not own a car and took Metro everywhere. It definitely served my needs. The waits for trains on the weekend were longer, and the system was dirtier than during the week, but nonetheless, you got where you wanted to go within a reasonable period of time. Now, I can't remember the last time I took Metro on the weekend. I bought a car several years ago, and I drive where I want to go, except during rush hour, when the Metro actually performs like public transportation should (at least most of the time).

This weekend, I asked a retired friend if she wanted to meet me for a movie in Bethesda. She doesn't drive anymore. She told me that, unless I could pick her up and drop her off, she wouldn't be able to meet me, because she couldn't tolerate waiting for the trains in the cold stations. So much for public transportation meeting the needs of those who want or need to go without their personal cars!

I am so very, very happy I decided to buy a car. To he!! with Metro.

Posted by: Washington Dame | February 16, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

RE: Washington Dame

You are stupid. The metro system is a top-notch world class system. All things in life require maintenance, including us humans so saying "to he!! with Metro" because they have to do maintenance over a long weekend is asinine. Maybe you aren't a good enough person that you are willing to pick up your friend or maybe your friend should wear a sweater (it is Feb) but this is not something that Metro can be blamed for. I am so very happy that I save close to $1k a month by not having a car and I am also so very happy to know I won't have to share the metro with you.
You should move to Iowa.

Posted by: Carless in Cap Hill | February 16, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Do you really expect me to read past your ad hominem attack? You demonstrate what is wrong with people today: you cannot express a contrary view with being personally nasty. You probably are the kind of person who won't give up their seat to my elderly friend on the Metro.

Posted by: Carless in Cap Hill | February 16, 2008 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Do you really expect me to read past your ad hominem attack? You demonstrate what is wrong with people today: you cannot express a contrary view with being personally nasty. Learn how to debate without rudeness, my friend.

Posted by: Washington Dame | February 16, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

I share the frustration with Metro on the weekends. I don't drive either, and I've always loved living in the city b/c it's so easy to get around without a car. And I've long been one of Metro's most vocal supporters to my friends. I am known as, like, the "Metro girl."


Things have changed. Definitely for the worse. Metro has succeeded in chasing me out of the subway on weekends in all but desperate situations. I stick close to home, walk, take the bus, or get rides with friends. It's simply not worth it to spend 30 or 40 minutes each way on a trip that should take 10 minutes. And service even on weekdays has deteriorated too.

I feel like Metro is really out of touch with why it's even in existence - to get us places efficiently. To wit: I remember a quote from Metro's Lisa Farbstein telling Metro riders not to try to walk up the escalators (hard when so many are not running), and not to continue to ask Metro to speed up the escalators that are actually (sloowly) running - she said that customers Should stand still and relax and "enjoy the ride." Memo to Metro: the point of riding Metro is TO GET SOMEWHERE, not to spend a few enjoyable, lazy hours placidly contemplating the architecture of the subway stations.

Posted by: PQ | February 16, 2008 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Learn how not to double post and decide on a closing line before you start typing.
Again, you should move to Iowa people are much nicer there and they have none of this evil mass transportation.

P.S. I called you stupid, which is only an "ad hominem attack" if its not true.

Posted by: Carless | February 16, 2008 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Dear Carless,
Perhaps you should look up the term "ad hominem" -- whether true or untrue, an attack is "ad hominem" (and hence, largely beside the point) if it's addressed at the person ("ad hominem" is Latin for "towards the man") rather than at the argument itself.

Either way, I can sympathize with Washington Dame's point. Metro weekend service is less than ideal. (PQ also makes the basic point)

And, I can also sympathize with yours -- I rely on Metro and find it to be a largely useful, if somewhat inconsistent service. And yes, they should be able to perform maintenance. Better to fix the system than tell it to go to hell.

What I find a bit puzzling is this -- why should any of us have to move to Iowa for "nicer people"? Do Iowans have a special gift for rational civil discussion and human decency? Is there some reason that citizens of our nation's capital should ignore basic manners? Seems like we could strive to have both civility and quality mass transportation -- then we'd be on to something.

Posted by: SSFSCoWA | February 17, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

What the hell is wrong with you? Those rage issues would really be better worked out on a therapists couch.

Posted by: @carless | February 17, 2008 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Look, I know Metro's weekend delays are a problem, but these aren't just delays because things went wrong - they are delays to make repairs. I'm sure weekend service was more prompt 20 years ago. However, 20 years ago, all of Metro's equipment and infrastructure was much younger. The system itself is only about 30 years old - are you surprised that a system with 30 year old equipment needs more maintenance than a system with 10 year old equipment?

This isn't to say that things can't be improved, but you can't simultaneously complain about bad service, and then also complain when they try and fix the problems can cause bad service.

Posted by: Alex B | February 18, 2008 9:22 AM | Report abuse

That system is only... 100 years old. Manages to run 24/7/365... none of this constant weekend maintenance / repair / perpetual 30 minute delay nonsense.

Posted by: And what about New York? | February 18, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Because the trains there are double or triple tracked making it almpst easy to do maintenance without messing things to the DC politicians that saved $$ 30 years ago by deciding on a single tracked system..

Posted by: way smarter in NYC though | February 18, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Yes, New York has more redundancy in the system. Not adding that capacity was a shortcoming in Metro's design from the get-go. However, that doesn't change the basic facts. NYC's subway evolved in a much different time, place, and context. For DC to build the same kind of system simply wasn't realistic.

It wasn't just about being cheap when the system was built - if they had pushed for more track, the added costs might have meant the whole thing never would get off the ground. 'Perfect' is the enemy of 'good' in many cases.

Posted by: Alex B | February 18, 2008 12:23 PM | Report abuse

By "world class" you mean "third world class" right?

The comment on escalators is especially funny since the Metro system does not have the escalator/stair capacity to move people on and off of platforms if they don't walk on the escalators (and often even if they do).

Posted by: over capacity | February 19, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Alex B, you seem to have stumbled into Metro's major problem. It isn't evolving. There is no interest in making the big changes necessary to keep it working or make it start working again. They're limited to rearranging the deck chairs or trying to add a station or two at a time. No thought to a third route from Virginia to DC while Maryland has six. No thought to connecting Maryland and Virginia without going through DC. Just adding a few stations from time to time on lines that don't have the capacity for them.

Posted by: no evolution | February 19, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

No evolution,

There's no doubt, the long term planning at Metro has stalled, but not without trying. Adding another Potomac crossing doesn't do anything unless you relieve the bottleneck that's the entire shared orange/blue trunk line through downtown. Metro proposed fixing that with a new tunnel through DC, and the pricetag came out at 6 billion or so - which would be higher now. It's easy to say that there needs to be evolution, but many simply balk at the pricetag.

As far as there being 6 entries into DC from MD and only two from VA, some of that is simply geography - MD shares a much longer border with DC.

Suburb to suburb transit isn't usually a strong ride generator. Mass transit is a great solution when shuttling people to the core and back (and around the core itself). Spending money on a VA to MD connection just for the sake of having one isn't a super high priority. Granted, Metro's devolved planning to the various states, so you see the all-VA Dulles extension and the all-MD Purple line.

So yes, Metro has legacy issues to deal with as it ages. Still, it's easy for people to say 'fix it!' when they're not the ones who have to ask for the money to do so, or even realize how much it might cost.

I'm all for that new subway through downtown - I think it would be a great addition for the region and the city, but people seem more concerned about taking pot shots rather than seeing the big picture.

Posted by: Alex B | February 19, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I was in New York visiting friend from Feb 8 through 10, and the subway to the part of Manhattan in which my friends live was shut down entirely all weekend. (You could get part of the way to their place, but from there you had to take a bus.) So I don't know what people are talking about when they say the NYC subway system is immune to shutdowns for repair and maintenance. It happens to the best of them.

When you all say "Metro" should be thinking of ways to improve and expand capacity, what you mean is that the local jurisdictions and the Feds should pony up some dough. Asking Metro to build a third track or a new Potomac crossing without any dedicated capital funds is futile.

Posted by: Lindemann | February 19, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Hey people, be glad they handled this as a maintenance issue, not as a catastrophic structural failure issue!

Posted by: BxNY | February 19, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

A new line through downtown makes a hell of a lot more sense than a line to Tysons Mall.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2008 12:28 PM | Report abuse

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